When I saw that March’s selection for my library’s book discussion group would be The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, I was a little nervous. Not my usual kind of book- I don’t normally read thrillers as I experience enough anxiety in my everyday life (thank you SO much, brain)- but I was willing to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did.
Lo Blacklock has lucked into the work gig of a lifetime, a Nordic cruise on a small but stately ship so she can schmooze with the other high class passengers for her employer, a travel magazine. But before she leaves, her apartment is broken into and the burglar traps Lo in her bedroom, setting her emotions on the fritz and exhausting her, because who can sleep when you wake up to a stranger in your apartment? It doesn’t help that Lo already suffers from massive anxiety, which at times can be all-consuming, nor does the way she leaves things with her boyfriend Judah aid in any kind of inner peace.
Despite her fatigue and with the help of copious amounts of alcohol, Lo makes it through the first dinner (displeased, of course, to find her former co-worker and ex-boyfriend Ben Howard on the trip), but it’s that evening, just when she’s managed to fall asleep, that she hears the scream from the next cabin. A scream…and then a splash, as though a body has been thrown overboard. And when Lo alerts security, the man in charge makes it clear that he doesn’t believe her: not about the splash, not about the blood Lo saw smeared on the window next door, and not about the woman in Cabin 10, from whom Lo borrowed mascara earlier that evening. Cabin 10, you see, is unoccupied.
What follows is a harrowing nightmare, with Lo desperate to find someone to believe her, and to figure out exactly what she heard and saw that night. Or did she really hear and see anything at all? Who can she trust on board this ship? And will Lo be the next person thrown overboard?
This kept me guessing. I don’t read a lot from this genre, so trying to pinpoint exactly who could have been thrown overboard, and by whom, was kind of fun. The reviews on Lo as a character seem mixed; I see a lot of people calling her whiny and finding her annoying, but…
The thing is, I understood her. I understood where she was coming from, and I thought Ms. Ware did an outstanding job accurately portraying Lo’s anxiety. I’ve dealt with anxiety my entire life, exactly the kind that Lo has- not stemming from any particular incident, just something that my brain has cooked up all on its own. Lo’s constant chest tightening, her mind racing, feeling like the walls are closing in, feeling stressed (often for no good reason at all), all of these are symptoms I feel on a daily basis. And when you add lack of sleep…
Bit of a detour here. Boy, do I understand what lack of sleep does to someone with anxiety. My daughter was born in April of 2014, and for the next 18 months, I survived on 3-4 broken-up hours of sleep per day. I’d fall into bed around 11, she’d be up at 12:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:00, and we’d be up for the day at 6 am. And each time I was awake, I’d be awake nursing her for around twenty minutes, and then it would take me another ten or twenty minutes to be relaxed enough to fall asleep. It was a NIGHTMARE of the worst degree. I drove through stoplights. I forgot what I was going to go do the moment I stood up. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I had a hard time finding words when I spoke. I cried constantly. At one point, I had to ask my son where we were going as I was driving down the road. (I was driving him to school. I truly had no idea when I asked him.) My anxiety was ramped up at all times to eleven on a scale of ten. My daughter’s about to turn five in April and I still don’t feel like my brain has fully recovered (I’m still only able to get about 5-6 hours of sleep per night. It’s not ideal). There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique; it’s utter hell.
All of that was to say that between Lo’s anxiety, her growing PTSD from the burglary, and her lack of sleep combine in a very plausible manner to keep both Lo and the reader off-kilter, never quite knowing what’s real, what’s not, and whom to trust. Perhaps for people who have more experience with thrillers, or for people whose realities don’t match more closely with Lo’s, this wasn’t the book they wanted it to be, but for me, a lot of it hit home and I thought it was done quite well.
I caught a grin near the end when Lo spoke with a Norwegian man who showed her a photograph.
“Min kone,’ he said, enunciating slowly. And then, pointing to the children, something that sounded like ‘vorry bon-bon.’
Every once in a while, I actually get to use the Norwegian I’ve learned and it always thrills me when I do. ‘My wife,’ he said, and then våre barnebarn, our grandchildren. Take THAT, people who said I’d never use Norwegian! (It actually pops up more often than you’d think.)