The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh


Once we have a father, but our father dies without us noticing.

– Opening sentence

I remember the hype around The Water Cure when it was first released last year, and although I grabbed a copy (and had it signed!) I didn’t get around to reading it until it was chosen for my work’s book club in January.

Let me start by saying this book is dark, and in places very disturbing. It follows three sisters who live in isolation from the rest of the world with their parents. In a toxic and dangerous world, King (their father) and their mother have put the girls through a number of extreme exercises and therapies in order to survive. But survive what?

It’s clear from the beginning that things are not as they seem. The routine training exercises regularly performed by and forced upon the girls are nothing less than abusive, and as the book is told only through their perspectives, it’s heartbreaking to read them accept this as normal. As love, even.

The reader is given very little information about the world outside their isolation. The girls firmly believe that the outside world is toxic and dangerous for women of all ages, and that they would most certainly die without their isolated withdrawal and their parent’s protection. But is this really the case? There are subtle clues throughout which both support and dispute this, and I am still unsure what version of reality I believe.

The point is, it doesn’t really matter. The whole book is a not-so-subtle metaphor for toxic masculinity and gender inequality. The fact that they call their father King is the big giveaway here.


At book club, the room was divided. Some, like myself, were gripped by The Water Cure and enthralled by the unique writing style and dark undertones. Others, however, struggled with the writing and pacing, describing it as lacking in depth and doing not much more than ticking all the boxes for a Booker-prize submission (The Water Cure was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018).

While I could definitely see why some readers would be put off, I personally found it to be a deliciously dark delight (I always feel weird when I say that I enjoyed a dark book, but I guess that’s the morbid curiosity in me).

Perfect for fans of Gather The Daughters and/or All Rivers Run Free.

We move into it with no fear.

– Closing sentence

4 Stars (4 / 5)


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