Sophie Mackintosh makes toxic masculinity literal in ‘The Water Cure’

Title: The Water Cure
Author: Sophie Mackintosh
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 288 p
Publishing Date08 January 2019


“We did not know much, but somewhere we knew that we were watching the beginning of the end.”

Grace, Lia, and Sky are sheltered from the horrors of the outside world. They’ve been brought up to believe that beyond the borders of their home there is nothing but violence: men against women, disease against bodies. Kept behind borders made of barbed wire and buoys, the girls are taught ways to purify their blood and their bodies — how to survive the toxicity of the world outside their home. Because as much as their mother and father try and keep them safe, women from the outside world still come to them for help, bringing with them disease and danger.

When their father disappears, the girls and their mother lose their connection to the outside world. Physically and mentally, they retreat inside themselves. After all, they’ve been taught that emotion is a weakness. They must be strong if they’re going to survive.

Grace begins to read mournfully from the Welcome Book, reason after reason after reason. Testament of how men hurt women. Testament of the old world. We have heard them all before, many times, but still I close my eyes against them, against the unease and gravity of their prophecy.

Their ability to survive is challenged when two men and a boy wash onto their shore. The dangers that their father had worked so hard to keep them from have finally found them. But each woman reacts differently, exploring how basic instincts and needs conflict with nurtured responses.

Beyond the exploration of “nature versus nurture” The Water Cure is a lyrical and haunting look at the effects of literal toxic masculinity. Mackintosh calls out our complacency with psychological and physical abuse, showing how the girls are taught from an early age that in the old world — our actual reality — men are violent to women because it’s in their nature to be. Women get sick from the toxins in the air because they are weaker. These aren’t new ideas, especially for feminist dystopian novels. What sets The Water Cure apart from the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, is that Mackintosh didn’t need to reshape the world. She let the world shape the way the girls were raised. While speculative in nature, The Water Cure is closer to reality than the most popular dystopian novels of the past decade.

Refrain of the man, universal: This is not my fault!

See also: I absolve myself of responsibility

And: I never said that. You can’t take the actions of my body as words.

Part climate fiction, part feminist dystopian, The Water Cure is a must-read for 2019 and a beautiful, horrific addition to the conversation surrounding feminism, equality, and domestic abuse.


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