Forget everything the publishing world has put out about The Water Cure. Chances are it is nowhere close to being an accurate picture of the novel. For one thing, it is not similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in any way. For another thing, there is nothing feminist nor vengeful about the story or the characters. If I have to compare it to another book, it is most similar to Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed, but even that is doing Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel a disservice because it sets up expectations that the story does not meet.
In talking to a friend about The Water Cure, I said it was beautiful and haunting but confusing and weird, and that is how I still feel about the story. There are no explanations about the outside world that satisfies readers. We learn nothing about the family’s backstory that would help make sense of the refuge offered to women, the cures used, and why. What little we do learn is disturbing, especially when you remember that the publisher is marketing it as a feminist revenge fantasy.
The only reason I opted to finish the book is due to the writing. It is beautiful and evocative. Capable of hiding the most brutal behavior behind poetic descriptions, Ms. Mackintosh’s prose holds your attention. Unfortunately, it also camouflages the flaws in the story until the end, when you are left to wonder what exactly you read and why you finished it.
I am sure there are going to be those readers who will think The Water Cure is one of the best new releases of 2019, and that’s great for them. For me, the cult-like aspect of the family with its cruel lessons about love is not something that impresses me. There are better books out there that also explore family and love and gender relations and do so in a way that does not frustrate you with gaps in the story or nebulous clues requiring you to fill in those gaps. The writing may be excellent, but it is not enough to overcome the story’s paltry plot and weak characters.