If you like psychological thrillers that consume your mind and make you question everything you’ve been told, it would be a travesty to miss Ruth Ware’s books. Her debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, sends readers into a breathless literary panic, but her new book, The Woman in Cabin 10, which I’ll share with you today, conveys a drawn-out anxiety that eats at the very soul.
About the book: Laura “Lo” Blacklock, travel journalist, has won the chance to be on the maiden voyage of the private luxury cruise ship, Aurora Borealis around the fjords of the coast of Norway. Days before she is to embark, however, Lo experiences one of the worst scares of her life as her apartment is burgled while she’s inside. Taking her anxiety medication helps keep the fear at bay for a little while, but the cruise ship is surprisingly small and claustrophobic, and she’s afraid to sleep. On the very first night, she wakes from a blissful drunken haze to hear a woman scream in the cabin next door, followed by a splash that sounds like a body being heaved over the balcony. Her proof? A vanished smear of blood and a tube of mascara lent to her by the woman in the supposedly empty cabin. Lo can’t stop visualizing the woman, helpless and alone in the freezing water, but the worst is that no one seems to believe her story. No one seems to be missing from the ship, and Lo’s credibility as a drunk woman on anxiety medication who was recently burgled is thrown into question. Even Lo begins to wonder if she’s imagined the whole thing, but she can’t quite let it go.
“I leaned over the balcony, just as I had the night before … and suddenly I was absolutely and completely certain that I had not imagined it. None of it. Not the mascara. Not the blood. Not the face of the woman in cabin 10. Most of all, I had not imagined her. And for her sake, I could not let this drop. Because I knew what it was like to be her–to wake in the night with someone in your room, to feel that utter helpless certainty that something awful was going to happen, with nothing you could do to prevent it.”
In a Dark, Dark Wood provided readers with a steady, unsettling build-up leading to a couple of grand scare scenes, but The Woman in Cabin 10 runs readers in circles, gnawing at the same questions that seem to produce different answers every time. The opening scene of The Woman in Cabin 10 features an intruder that left me worried that this new book would be rife with similarities to Ware’s last story and thus lose it’s surprise factor, but this is not the case at all. Much like Lo’s nerves when she’s off her anxiety meds, this novel is one constant heightening drumroll of suspense that takes fear to a whole new level.
“I had been afraid before. I’d been scared out of my wits. But I had never despaired, and it was despair that I was feeling now.”
The magnitude of Lo’s feelings of helplessness in this novel are further increased by snippets at the end of each section of the novel (there are eight parts) that include emails, website gossip, and news articles from the outside world as Lo’s acquaintances on the ground begin to realize that something horrible must have happened on the boat. These alternative mediums of narration are a fascinating addition to the plot structure. Ware made a risky–and effective–choice to use these bits of correspondence from farther in the future than the reader has seen yet through Lo’s eyes. We know Lo will lose communication with the outside world before she does. We know a body has been found before Lo has any idea whose it will be. It’s important to pay attention to the dates in these sections, because they are pertinent to the story and they do add a lot of tension to Lo’s persistent questions about what is going on. Over and over she asks herself which of the ship’s passengers could be a murderer, and every time a different answer presents itself. She’s spiraling into anxiety, and then all hell breaks lose.
“Somewhere outside the sun was rising and falling, the waves were lifting and rocking the hull, and life went on, while I sank into the darkness.”
The best part of this book, however, is that the reader, along with Lo, must question whether Lo has seen and heard what she thinks she has. It is very possible to like Lo, to root for her to solve the mystery and escape alive, but still to question her reliability. Is she going crazy? Are we going crazy?
“I felt as if I hadn’t slept properly in days–which perhaps I hadn’t, and my chin kept nodding onto my chest and then jerking back up as I remembered where I was, and what I’d escaped from. Had it been real, that nightmare on the beautiful boat, with its coffin-like cell, far beneath the waves? Or was this all one long hallucination?”
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. Ruth Ware has done it again. It would be hard to choose a favorite between her first two books, and I can’t wait for the next one. Furthermore, not only is the plot great, but this book is beautiful. I know people say it’s unfair to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is important. It’s the first part of a book you see, the first part you touch. It was hard to photograph it well (apologies for my lack of camera prowess), but not only is the picture itself dark and compelling, but those water drops on the cover are embossed into the cover paper, and shine in the sun like real water. If the light hits this book right, it looks like there’s real water spattered all over it.It’s darkly gorgeous, and completely fits the book’s theme.
- If you haven’t read Ware’s first book, In a Dark, Dark Wood, please do that now. Ware is a master at taking beautiful settings to a whole new level of scary. In her debut novel, a small bachelorette party taking place in a glass house in a lonely forest meets deadly trouble–but is the danger outside of the house, or already in with them? Read my complete review here.
- Caroline Kepnes’ books about the murdering Joe Goldberg, You and its sequel Hidden Bodies, don’t have a lot specifically in common with Ruth Ware’s books, except that they are psychological thrillers unlike anything I’ve read before. This duo (so far) is a creepy and compelling love story in which no one is safe. Check out my complete reviews here.
What’s next: I’ll have another review for you, on E. L. James’ Grey, in a couple of days, but tomorrow I’m planning to share with you my August book haul and wrap-up, and my September TBR. I’m still not sure about doing this every month, but it worked well for August so I’ll give it a second try. Stay tuned for that, and for more reviews, including Grey, the latest addition to the Fifty Shades series. This one is narrated from the perspective of the dominant/stalker/sadist/CEO extraordinaire, Christian Grey.
Set sail with The Woman in Cabin 10 and see what you’ve been missing.
The Literary Elephant