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2018 Man Booker Longlist: The Water Cure

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Up next for our shadow panel is The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. Five of our panelists read this book. Here are our reviews.

Thank you to Doubleday for providing our panel with a review copy of this book in exchange for our honest reviews.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
2018 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2018
Judges: Nicole, Jen, Book Worm, Lisa
Find it/buy it here: The Water Cure

Synopsis (from Amazon): The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Virgin Suicides in this dystopic feminist revenge fantasy about three sisters on an isolated island, raised to fear men

King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia, and Sky. He has lain the barbed wire; he has anchored the buoys in the water; he has marked out a clear message: Do not enter. Or viewed from another angle: Not safe to leave. Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cult-like rituals and therapies they endure fortify them from the spreading toxicity of a degrading world.

But when their father, the only man they’ve ever seen, disappears, they retreat further inward until the day two men and a boy wash ashore. Over the span of one blistering hot week, a psychological cat-and-mouse game plays out. Sexual tensions and sibling rivalries flare as the sisters confront the amorphous threat the strangers represent. Can they survive the men?

Nicole’s Review: I don’t know, man.  I’m not sure what to say.  This was an effed up story.  Super ridiculously disturbing, and also hard to put down.  Atmospherically it was perfect, and the author kept the consistency of the “innocence” of her three primary characters the whole way through.  I loved how little details were just dropped in which shook what you thought you knew about what was happening.

It is interesting to look at this book in contrast to Naomi Alderman’s The Power.  Two completely different points of view on women dealing with theirs.

I didn’t have a lot of interest in reading this, I thought I’d read enough of this type of book, but I have to say I found this a fresh perspective.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 5/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Jen’s Review: This book literally gave me nightmares. It is perhaps one of the best books I’ve read in terms of creating a sense of atmosphere and I was thoroughly unsettled reading it. I think the comparison to Virgin Suicides is quite perfect because both books create an incredible sense of tension and unease and both books have a dreamlike quality to the narrative and plot.

I was pretty hooked from the first page in part because the author brilliantly makes you question everything that is happening. Is the world really ending? Are the parents brainwashing their children? It it a combination of both?

For the most part, I thought it was very well written but with some flaws — it certainly had its share of overwritten sentences. I also found the message a little over-the-top, but to be fair it is a dark fantasy and Mackintosh intentionally pushes boundaries of what is believable — clearly I found it believable enough to give me nightmares. This book would make a fantastic book club selection. I’m a bit skeptical about it’s chances for the shortlist but several of this year’s selections seem odd to me.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20

Anita’s Review: There are two ways to read this book: as some kind of feminist themed dystopian novel with a big important message.  Or, as a story of a dysfunctional family with a father who has the narcissistic appeal of a cult leader. If you read it as the former (and my sense is that the book is being promoted that way), I think you will be sorely disappointed.

I loved the language and foreboding atmosphere of the book, the unrelenting tension.  But I didn’t see it as an important novel or as one with a whole lot to say.  The author is purposefully ambiguous and that creates interesting work for and engages the reader.  The writing itself is really evocative, and I loved it. However, at the end of the day, the story seems to be merely one of family dysfunction at a new level, but derivative of other books about cults or other situations where people are entrapped by the mentally ill.  Man Booker worthy, hmm, I don’t think so.  An interesting literary excursion, yes.  I am just not sure you can pin a theme on a book after you’ve written it. Either one has emerged, or you edit it to enhance a theme you had in mind from the get go – – but I feel like the marketers of this book are trying to retrofit it with an importance that isn’t actually there.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 2/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total score: 14/20

Lisa’s Review: I didn’t really get this book. I’m not sure there is even anything to get. I think when you try to dig under the surface of what happened in the book, you don’t find anything because there is nothing there.  What is going on in the world of this novel? Is it our world or a different one? Past, present, or future? Why doesn’t anyone come to where they live anymore? Why the Water Cure? Why the salt? Do they live on an island or a peninsula? Why do the men come to where they live?  The author needs to answer some of the reader’s questions, at least enough to keep the reader curious about the story.  Sophie Mackintosh did not do enough to keep me involved.

Writing quality: 4/5
Character Development:1/4
Plot Development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total Score: 9/20

Book Worm’s Review:  I really enjoyed this sinister story about how one family has isolated themselves from the rest of humanity following an event that has a negative often fatal effect on women.

The story is told from the point of view of the daughters Grace, Lia, and Sky and as the reader learns more about life on the island, it becomes less and less clear who, or what, poses the most threat to the girls. Is it the environment, is it outsiders, is it their parents or is it each other? The tension level is kept high all the way to the end of the story as you are never entirely sure what each girl is capable of doing.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20

Average rating of combined panel = 14.2/20

Ranking of longlist books:
1. Overstory (18/20)
2. Warlight (15.56/20)
3. The Water Cure by Mackintosh (14.2)
4. The Mars Room (14/20)
5. Sabrina (9.5/20)

We want to hear from you. Have you read the book? What did you think? Does it deserve to make the shortlist? Why or why not?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m surprised I have this the highest score


    September 3, 2018
    • Anita #

      If enjoyment was weighted more, my score would have been higher . . .I liked reading this one a lot more than my score reflects.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 4, 2018
      • Me too. I enjoyed it but I don’t think it is really a booker worthy book


        September 4, 2018
  2. I am intrigued by all the reviews within this post. I am sure I would be one of those readers who would be upset by such a book. I know that Die, My Love (for the Man Booker International Prize this year) was horribly upsetting to me…does that make a book good? I can’t decide if the power is worth the tragedy, or if such novels are truly indicative of the state of mind in our world today.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 3, 2018
    • I did find it a very emotionally upsetting book. For me, it was certainly not Booker worthy and unlike The Power which made me think reflect on certain things, this book did not. However, I thought it was a pretty engaging book overall.


      September 4, 2018
  3. It’s one of the books I’m most interested to read out of the longlist, but I think it’s also a little out there and definitely not for everyone.


    September 5, 2018

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