At the beginning of the year, I thought it might be fun and productive to try my hand at reading thrillers again. Although, after DNF’ing Carolyn Kepnes‘ You and Before I Go to Sleep almost instantly, I lost faith in myself (and the cosmos, honestly).
Then, maybe a week or so later, I made another attempt with a different book on my TBR: In a Dark, Dark Wood. Along with the throng of books I’d purchased, shelved, and subsequently forgotten ever existed in my collection, alas I reemerged with In a Dark, Dark Wood after a friend’s recommendation. I was thrilled to say Ware’s debut did not disappoint. As a self-proclaimed slow reader and bookmark rebel—often discovered reading the same passages several times over—I give major props to any writer who can cleverly hide undetectable twists in their books.
In fact, it was Ruth Ware‘s initial introduction that prompted me to pick up her second novel, The Woman in Cabin 10. Unfortunately, this book was met with fleeting interest, oversaturated characters and lacked the profitable shock factor I remembered from In a Dark, Dark Wood. In all, this book was nothing I wanted it to be.
This review contains spoilers from the book
Oh goodness, where do I begin with this one? Let’s start with the preface, eh?
Essentially, the book is about Laura “Lo” Blacklock, our narrator, who wakes to the realization that an intruder is inside her home. After hearing footsteps outside her bedroom, she (stupidly) goes to investigate on her own. But as she opens the door, she finds a tall, broody, indiscernible man standing in front of her doorway. The intruder makes his escape by slamming the door in Lo’s face, rendering her nearly unconscious. Regaining consciousness, Lo finds that her things have been stolen—her purse and phone, if I remember correctly.
This traumatic event sets the tone for the rest of the book as it onsets Lo’s persistent paranoia as the book progresses. After confiding in her conflicted lover, Judah, and her superiors at Velocity magazine about the burglary the night before, Lo becomes more determined than ever to redeem herself by going through with a make or break assignment that could finally ignite her writing career.
In just a few days, Lo will be among a crowd of journalists, photographers and other big shots in the industry to receive press passes to board the maiden voyage, Aurora Borealis, a week-long cruise that passes through Norwegian fjords made popular by its northern lights.
During her first stay, Lo makes attempts to regain her faith by getting acquainted with some old and new faces on the ship, most of which are big shot journalists, business folk, photographers and such. Yet, the reader can absolutely tell that she’s still quite rattled by the burglary, her shaky relationship with Judah, and the ever-present expectation of establishing a good rapport for Velocity—so to say Lo is “stressed out” would be an absolute understatement.
After an evening of pleasantries, Lo plans to make more improvements and better impressions the next day. While fixing herself up in the bathroom, she hears a racket on the other side of her cabin. It’s only then when she realizes someone else is in the lodge next to hers (cabin 10), a woman with whom she shares adjoining bathrooms. Reluctantly, Lo introduces herself by way asking to borrow some makeup. She notices the woman seems disheveled, frenzied, and shows signs of anxiety too, something Lo understands all too well. The woman doesn’t say much, but we understand she’s trying to suppress some panic but rushes to give Lo her tube of mascara anyway.
Fast forward to a few nights later, a drunken Lo wakes to even more staggering sounds in the night, which brings back her initial fears of another intruder. But this time, however, the faint noise she hears sounds like screams. A woman’s screams, to be exact, and presumably coming from cabin 10. When Lo finally comes to, she hears more racket and then a huge splash outside her window that sends her to the veranda. What she sees next is unclear: the pale silhouette of what appears to be a body sinking into the deep darkness of the sea. What’s even eerier, Lo sees that the glass barrier of the next-door veranda is blood-stained. It doesn’t take long for Lo to put two and two together: there’s been a murder.
However, when Lo goes to alert the ship’s authorities, she’s shocked to see the smear is no longer there. As doubt settles in and conspiracies arise, Lo must realize Was it really murder? Or is Lo experiencing a hallucination brought upon by her own drunkenness?
As far as context goes, I think my cinematic summary will suffice. Now, let’s get into my real feelings about this book.
Before I begin, here’s what I will say about Ware, she is a promising writer. I love the way she weaves really intricate plot twists into her mysteries that look simple at first but when you decipher what just happened, you’re all like, Wait, what? I wasn’t expecting that!
The plot twist in The Woman in Cabin 10 was really no different in that it caught me off-guard; the imposter shift in this book was amazing. In fact, I am willing to go out on a limb by stating Ware as on par with Gillian Flynn when it comes to dropping little hints and clues without disrupting the pace of a mystery. And that is the trait I admire about Ware, and the very asset that has made me a fan of her work. Nevertheless, I have to be really honest right now: I did not enjoy this book.
Starting with the head, my biggest grudge with this book was Lo. As a narrator, unreliable or not, Lo is intolerable. Despite all the shit she goes through in this book—from getting accosted and robbed, to fallouts with her boyfriend, to the barrage of insecurities she deals with as a person—ironically, her most tedious character flaw is her disinterest in redeeming herself.
Unlike most people, Lo doesn’t express any desire to reestablish any shred of confidence. Which is unbelievable considering she takes on the cruise ship assignment for that very purpose. But why does she waste so much time beating herself up? I’ll tell you why, because Lo is a different kind of unlikeable character, made all the more annoying by her impulse to shatter whatever’s left of her own humanity. And I hated it. Lo puts the “lo” in self-loathing. (Try saying that three times over, or simply read this book. You’ll find both tasks equally challenging.) Not only that, she spends entirely too much time talking about her failures than her successes, and she’s especially crucial about her social etiquette.
And I mean this, you could literally flip to any random page in this book and find Lo awkwardly describing just how much of an awkward person she is. For example, in this scene which takes place in Part Two, Lo reacquaints herself with Ben, an old flame of hers, while observing a group of hot shots at dinner. At first, Lo can’t put a name to any of their faces, but Ben does easily, and she wastes no time criticizing her lack of knowledge and prior research:
“Jesus, Ben. How do you know all this? Have you got an encyclopedia knowledge of high society or something?”
“Er, no.” Ben looked at me, a touch of disbelief in his expression. “I rang up the press office for a list of guests and then googled them. It’s not exactly Sherlock Holmes stuff.”
Fuck. Fuck. Why hadn’t I done that? It was what any good reporter would have done—and I’d not even thought of it. But then Ben probably hadn’t spent the last few days in a haze of sleep deprivation and PTSD.
— excerpt from Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10
This is only a light example of this, but trust me when I say she gets more critical of her mistakes as the story continues. Mountains are made out of molehills on every page, and it gets to be draining. (Like, we get it, you’re a self-hating drunk. Now tell us something we don’t know.) I don’t know, it just bothered me having to suffer through 300 pages of Lo’s bitching and nagging herself. Anyone willing to cannibalize themselves to that degree will drive any reader up the wall, as was the case with my experience.
Another thing that made this book uneventful was the presence of so many (pointless) characters; it became a distraction having to keep up with all of the suspects in this book. Unlike In a Dark, Dark Wood—which had a feasible four or five suspects—this book relied on at least twelve different people. Not only were they hard to distinguish, some of the characters no relevance to this story, in my opinion.
Judah’s role, for instance, is essentially repealed by the time Lo boards for the cruise because they aren’t able to communicate due to the signal disconnect. Then there was the long list of other big names on the boat I didn’t care to keep up with—besides Ben of course, and maybe three or four other players on the boat—most of the attendees could have been left out. Honestly, The Woman in Cabin 10 read like a game of Clue but without the climax. (Also, everyone loses in the end.)
When it’s all said and done, though, I can at least say I tried to enjoy this book. Sadly it didn’t pan out as I anticipated. Still, I can totally see this book becoming a big screen hit (which is already in the works) if the right alterations are made. Usually, I’m against most cinematic changes but The Woman in Cabin 10 is really going to need to kick up the suspense factor if it really wants a good turnout at the box office because the initial story as a whole was just not that surprising.
Nonetheless, I am STILL a fan of Ware and she’s already won my loyalty as one of her readers. With that being said, I cannot wait until The Lying Game hits stands in July!