Book Review: "The Woman in Cabin 10" by Ruth Ware

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea.

At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem?

All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

My first encounter with Ruth Ware was with her chilling novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood. I remember how exciting I found the book and cheered at every twist and turn the book had to offer. It had been a great introductory piece that leaves an equally great impression on an author one is unfamiliar with. That in mind, I was surprised by The Woman in Cabin 10 as I did not receive the same experience I did with its predecessor. If I'm too vague out of politeness, I didn't enjoy this novel as much as the previous of Ware's books.

The Woman in Cabin 10 begins with a protagonist who is suffering from psychological trauma that affects their reliability as a narrator. This, in essence, is far from a problem as many interesting stories from this genre are told by unreliable narrators, but admittedly this is the start of where this novel's problems begin (or rather, the issues I had with this novel began). An unreliable narrator tends to tell a rather unusual version of a story because they tend to tell the truth in an effectively eccentric way. One of my favorite phrases is that "sometimes you have to use lies, to tell the truth."

There are many novels I've read in the past that use this kind of narrator well, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane comes to mind as (without spoiling the twist ending) the narrator of this novel at first seems perfectly reasonable until a few suggestive nightmares and suggestively hallucinogenic-like moments suggest this narrator may be less normal than they seem. There's nothing wrong with the lines of reality and hallucinations being blurred for effect, but this was what caused major turbulence for me when reading through Ware's novel.

I remember one particular scene where our narrator is seemingly attacked in her home by an assailant she can't describe and is left with a bloody face, but of course, this assailant cannot be traced and was seemingly never there. Therefore, she must have hurt herself until Ware spends more time establishing other characters saw this verifiably-real-but-not assailant. Less convolutedly, this novel has such a stark difference to In a Dark, Dark Wood regarding establishing what is real, what isn't and what's debatable.

My greatest challenge with this novel was spending more time trying to sort between what this narrator was establishing as reality versus the fantasy their mind was creating. As I mentioned earlier, it's okay to have moments that blur between reality and imagination, but when neither one or the other are established, the entire narrative becomes increasingly difficult to follow. I still consider Ruth Ware a very talented writer but was surprised with my experience with The Woman in Cabin 10 not being as confident as In a Dark, Dark Wood had been. Perhaps

I'll have better luck with her next book, but for the time being, I hope the narrative shifts back to the style that had me hooked.

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