Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware Review

Laura Blacklock is a travel journalist given a career-boosting opportunity to cover the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise liner headed to see the Northern Lights. On her first night there she meets a mysterious woman in the cabin next to hers, cabin 10, and then later hears a scream and the sounds of a body being dumped into the sea, seeing what she thinks is blood on the neighbouring railing. Except the cabin is empty and no-one on the ship matches the woman’s description. A heavy drinker and using prescription pills for anxiety and depression, as well as dealing with the trauma of a recent home-invasion, is Laura imagining things – or is there a murderer on board? 

I really enjoyed Ruth Ware’s debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, so I was excited to read her latest, The Woman in Cabin 10; unfortunately it’s a disappointing let-down and quite a boring read. 

My biggest problem is with how quickly exciting events are dealt with and how looooong the dreary aftermath is dwelt on. For example, the book opens with Laura being burgled while also being in her London flat: exciting. Then there’s page after page after page of seeing her shaken up, having trouble sleeping, drinking, worrying, traumatised: dull. Dull, static, ordinary, and predictable to read but we still have to plod through the pages while Ware underlines to the reader that Laura is unnerved. Duh. 

Then we get on the boat, and, following too many pages of Laura schmoozing with vapid guests, we get to the murder in the night: exciting. And then we have to endure page after page of Laura explaining what she’s seen (and what the reader has also just seen) to the ship’s security officer in detail – it’s so repetitive! How about throwing in a line like “I explained what I had seen to the ship’s security officer but he didn’t believe me, even insinuating doubt by mentioning the booze I’d had that night and looking toward the pills by the sink” to skip over it all?

Then we have to sit through page after page of Laura and the security officer meeting the staff to see if the woman in cabin 10 isn’t one of them – even though the reader knows it’s not going to be that easy and nothing interesting happens during the interviews to make doing so worthwhile anyway. A simple line like “I spent the morning meeting the staff but the woman in cabin 10 wasn’t among them” could’ve been dropped in and we could move on! But I guess Ware had to meet a certain page count. 

Ware is then content to tread water while Laura continues to question herself, wondering who she can trust, (ie. doing nothing) with the occasional cheap cornball thrill scare tossed in – for example, the writing on the steamed-up mirror. Reading this increasingly threadbare story as it painfully progresses is like wading through sludge! What little tension there is all but disappears once the reader finds out what’s going on but still we’ve got to go through the motions of Laura escaping, etc. to get to the end some 70-ish pages later. Awful stuff. 

It doesn’t help that Laura isn’t an engaging protagonist at all. What the book really needed was a compelling Poirot-type who could wring the drama and tension out of the situation. But no, we got plain, dull old Laura bumbling about uselessly instead. 

I can see Ruth Ware aiming for a cross between Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith with this novel but she falls far short of both and instead creates a slow-moving and far from thrilling novel with a stereotypical murderer/motive as the reader’s unsatisfying reward. The setup has potential but Ware fails to realise it – The Woman in Cabin 10 is an immensely tedious chore to slog through.

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