‘I was thinking a lot about what it meant to be a happy and healthy woman living within patriarchal structures.’

In this Man Booker 2018 longlist interview Sophie Mackintosh tells us about getting ‘The Call’ from her editor about The Water Cure making the longlist and how her next novel won’t be set in this world.

Publication date and time: Published

What’s it like being on the longlist for the first time? 

It’s truly amazing – as a debut author, it’s just not something you expect at all. I was vaguely aware the longlist announcement was coming up and interested to see what was on it, but I was completely taken aback when I got The Call from my editor. It’s already opened up my work to many new readers and opportunities. 

What inspired the novel? 

I wrote it at a time when I was thinking a lot about what it meant to be a happy and healthy woman living within patriarchal structures, a time when I felt powerless and angry often – 2016, when the world was changing, when there was a resurgence in ugly views that were somehow now acceptable to voice. At the same time I had been writing on and off about an isolated family, a family fighting to survive in the context of some unnamed environmental disaster, and it felt natural to me that, actually, this would be the disaster – a literal toxic masculinity. Differently to other ‘dystopian’ novels, perhaps, it’s explored in a more abstract, a quieter way; I wanted to focus on the world of the sisters, their trauma and how it shaped them the centrality of the narrative, to approach with a magnifying glass rather than a telescope. To explore how overarching toxicity filters down into everything fractures even things as intrinsic as a family unit. Above all, I wanted the voiceless girls to have a voice. I wanted to turn powerlessness into power.  

The book is centred on three sisters. What made you decide to write some of the chapters from the perspective of all three sisters at once? 

As they are so close and have only really known each other, it made sense to me at the beginning that they would almost speak as one due to their connection. It was also my way of including Sky’s voice too – it was challenging for me to find the right tone for her, as she is considerably younger than the others. As a child, I spoke a secret language with my younger sister and spoke directly for her until she was five or six, which I also wanted to allude to. We forget how preternatural the bonds of siblings can be, how much more painful it makes growing apart, which the girls do throughout the novel, their voices crystallising into their own.  

Favourite Man Booker-winning novel? 

Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner. I love the understated precision, the elegiac feel, how she slowly shakes out the characters one by one. Her observations are perfect. 

What are you working on next? 

I’m working on another novel; at its heart is an uncanny road trip and a transformation. It’s not set in our world, but I wouldn’t describe it as dystopian either. It’s more that it expands upon a world I touched upon in a short story I wrote a couple of years ago, a sort of surreal, parallel universe. I’m drawn again and again to rituals and control – to creating spaces where the rules can be what you want them to be, where universal things can be approached from a new direction.

Sophie Mackintosh