The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Drinking game! Take a shot every time Lo whines about how tired she is. On second thought, no. Our heroine can drink you under the table in any case and you don’t want alcohol poisoning before you finish chapter 2.
Bookshelves: whodunit, mystery, thriller, chick-lit, brit-lit, pop-fiction, unreliable-narrator, ugh, wannabe, bad-dialogue
This wants to be The Girl on the Train crossed with Murder on the Orient Express, with the unreliable narrator/unbelievable witness solving a locked-room mystery. Now, I love an unreliable narrator, and I love locked-room mysteries, and this book almost gets there. Ware did a decent job with the mystery, but unfortunately, she took Paula Hawkins’ Rachel Whatsherbucket a step too far.
We have wannabe investigative reporter Laura I-insist-you-call-me-Lo Blacklock, suffering from long-term anxiety attacks and short-term PTSD* from a recent home invasion, who lucks into a press junket on a luxury cruise, combining blackout drinking with psychotropic medication, convincing herself she heard a scream and a body hitting the water (because that is the only possible explanation for a splashing sound at sea), bumbling around “investigating” and being bitchy to pretty much everyone and growing increasingly pissed off that no one believes her.
With the way this woman throws back pills and booze and never does a shred of journalistic interviewing or writing, I wouldn’t have believed her either. For the first two-thirds of the book I was like, for God’s sake woman, step away from the mini bar, stop eating seaweed and have a bowl of chicken soup, see a doctor for some Ambien and get some goddamned sleep, act like a professional and maybe, I don’t know, read the fricking press packet for the job you’re being paid to do, and you just might stop hallucinating. I know we’d have no story then, but still. If I’d been standing in front of her as I read one more time about her stabbing headaches and pounding skull and cramping stomach and nausea and vomit and claustrophobia and sleep deprivation, I would have pitched her overboard myself.
And I know I sound unsympathetic, and I feel bad, but I can’t help it. I had my first panic attack when I was 18, and have suffered them, as part of chronic anxiety and panic disorder and PTSD ever since then (I am now 55). I recently went through a period of horrific insomnia where I got anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours of sleep a night, every night, for seven years. And through that I managed to show up for work, do my job, earn a college degree, pay the bills, just generally be a credible grownup. So I know what it’s like. I really do. By the time I found a doctor who didn’t dismiss me outright as an addict pillseeker and was willing to experiment to find what would help me actually sleep, I was close to full-on suicidal. That I can be so unsympathetic toward the intrepid Lo is a measure of just how obnoxious she is.
Aside from that, the mystery was good. A little way in I remembered I’d given only two stars to the other Ruth Ware book I’ve read and wondered why I’d even checked this one out, but I finished it because the story itself was just that compelling. I couldn’t not know how it ended, and a writer gets a lot of credit for that.
Verdict: Two stars for a clever little mystery, dragged down by a protagonist I wanted to choke but who did draw my attention away from the repetition and unrealistic dialogue, with a bonus star for unputdownableness. So if you find Lo bearable, you might love this book. A lot of people do.
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OK, you’ve been warned, so if you read this CLEARLY MARKED SPOILER it’s your own fault:
*I just got done reading a discussion board (which I came across entirely by accident when I was Googling literary tropes in general), which pointed out the actual reason for the burglary at the beginning of the story. I thought it was there to give Lo the PTSD that has her so annoyingly overwrought through the whole book, but nope. The bad guys needed to steal her passport so she couldn’t go on the cruise in the first place, which would have made this The Woman in Cabin 9 and eliminated our heroine entirely. So that burglary does actually have something to do with the plot, but a reader who is a lot smarter than I am had to make that clear to me because it was left out of the criminal-makes-full-confession-and-explains-everything-to-the-imprisoned-protagonist denouement trope. (It had a twist though.)