Feminist dystopian novels are really popular right now. Maybe its Hulu and their amazing rendition of The Handmaid’s Tale. Maybe it’s the #metoo movement. Maybe we, bookworms, are becoming woke and more responsible consumers of books. Maybe, it was just overdue.
For whatever it may be, recently, book sales for dystopian novels have been consistently good. From Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (published in 1985), to Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God (2017) to Leni Zuma’s Red Clocks (2018) and Christina Dalcher’s Vox (2018). “The Water Cure” has received good reviews in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian and The Washington Post. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. But consumers’ reviews have been mixed, at least in #bookstagram. I, personally, did not enjoy it. It is not that the book is gloomy (it is), dark and pessimistic (it is) or the uncertainty on whether it is actually a dystopian novel or a cultish one (I liked that). I didn’t dislike it because it was uncomfortable or slow. Pretty much like in The Vegetarian by Han Kang, I was expecting the end to make up for it all. It didn’t.
The Water Cure is the story of three sisters who live in an island with their parents, Mother and King. While the island is very close to the mainland, it has been cordoned-off to prevent toxins and toxic people (a.k.a men and women polluted by proximity to men) from coming to the island. These three sisters have been raised to control their emotions (which are exploited by men to harm women) and undergo a series of ritual to ensure purification from the toxins in the environment. Their parents are far from loving and nurturing but have the task of making foot-soldiers out of them and prepare them for survival in a world ruled by pollution and toxic masculinity. Suddenly, their dad, King, disappears and three men arrive on the island. Those two events end up placing their world upside down and testing their reediness for survival.
What worked for me in this book?
- Toxic masculinity – mean are toxic both literally and because of their relation to power.
- Is it a cult or a dystopia?
- The disappearances which gives it an element of mystery
- Purification rituals (and their parallel to self-care)
- I can totally picture this book being a great movie. With dark lighting. (Cal Revely-Calder from The Guardian suggests maybe by Sophia Coppola? I agree).
What didn’t work?
- It is not empowering nor does it have any strong female characters
- it is devoid of plot
- There is no consistency in switching points of view. Most of the book is told from one of the sister’s perspective.
- Portrayal of pregnancy is not realistic
I think it would have worked perfectly as a short-story where it is more acceptable to have so many loose ends. As a novel, the style and plot-less direction stretched for too long and made for a dull and disturbing read.