The Woman in Cabin 10–Ruth Ware

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I loved In a Dark, Dark Wood, so was super excited when I saw Ruth Ware’s new novel on my book review site–and very disappointed that it was only available to reviewers in the UK.  When it was published in the US, I bought a copy, but have only just had the proper time to devote to it.  This could not be, I knew, a casual read over many days.  Ruth Ware grabs you by the throat and does not let go until the last page.

The novel begins with Lo, a travel journalist, experiencing the break-in of her apartment while locked in her bedroom.  She is violated and terrified.  She cannot sleep and in desperation goes to the home of her out-of-town boyfriend, with whom she has a “did we break up?” kind of fight before leaving on a fantastic opportunity for her career and a wonderfully posh boutique cruise with other journalists and investors.  Thanks to sleep deprivation and a generous amount of alcohol, Lo sees the ship in the first day through a distorting distancing haze.  When she finally sleeps, or passes out, she awakens to a scream followed by a large splash.  When she runs to her balcony, she sees a woman disappearing beneath the waves and blood on the glass that divides her balcony from that of the neighboring room.  She calls the staff and is told there is no one in the cabin next to her, even though she had borrowed mascara from a woman in that room the first evening.  Things begin to go downhill from there as she sticks to her conviction that she heard and saw a murder and those around her question her reliability.  As events move forward, everyone on the ship becomes a suspect, even former friends, and Lo’s paranoia climbs to new heights.

As is usually the case with novels that are so successful in building suspense, the conclusion seems destined to disappoint.  Ware does a satisfactory job with the narrative, but takes a disappointing tactic in a predictable post script that made me close the cover with a pang.

Regardless, I enjoyed this novel for its ability to scare the bejeezus out of me and pull me into Lo’s paranoia.  Ware is so adept that she brings readers into the mind-messing world of the page.  The ship, of course, was a perfect setting on which to trap her protagonist, just as the isolated house in the woods was a perfect place to trap the protagonist of her debut novel.  I am curious to see what hand Ware plays in her next novel.

A quick note on aesthetics.  The dust jacket of the hard cover edition is gorgeous.  The title is contained within a porthole streaming with rivulets of water.  The beads of water are raised and glossy, so shimmer like actual water.  My daughter marveled at the design, in fact, when it caught her eye in our kitchen.  Kudos to the designers.

 

Finished 12/16

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The Other Side of the World–Stephanie Bishop

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This is a slim volume–237 pages–that an avid reader can start and finish in a weekend without too many social plans.  If that is your plan, however, you may wish to make sure significant people in your life are out of town because this novel creates a funk that swells until it swallows you.  It’s the early 1960s in England and Charlotte is a new mom who today we might say is suffering from postpartum depression and an artist who has stopped painting.  Or just sleep deprivation and the joy of new motherhood.  Her husband, a poetry lecturer, adores her, but seems uncertain how to help her.  Her only relief derives from the English countryside.  He immigrated from India to England as a child, pushed by his parents to leave before India gained independence and the world became less favorable to a young Anglo-Indian boy.  India is not home.  Neither is England, with its cold, gray, dampness.  Sun, Henry decides, is the answer, and that can be found, with sponsored passage, in Australia.  When Charlotte learns she is pregnant again, she gives in to this idea and finds herself in a countryside that brings her no joy, in a small house with two small children, with no friends or family in the neighborhood, and her husband in his office at the local university.  Charlotte does not disguise her unhappiness for long.  Henry hides his as he struggles against subtle and not-so-subtle racism and increasingly admits he belongs nowhere.  Their situation seems to improve when Charlotte makes friends, but as she makes connections, Henry becomes more troubled.  His students walk out of lectures.  He is moved into a smaller more remote office.  When he hears from India that his mother is near death, he leaves Charlotte and the girls and fails to write or call for weeks.  When he returns to Australia, Charlotte is gone, the girls with a friend.

Bishop creates a claustrophobic world that drags you into Charlotte’s negative lens.  Her sense of being trapped and bitter slips from the page into your own heart.  This may have been augmented by my reading the novel first thing in the morning with the house dark and my family asleep, so perhaps try reading in a brightly sunlit room with happiness around you.

Charlotte does not seem to see Henry as anything other than English, or at least she does not ruminate on it openly.  However, a key interaction between them in Australia is when he asks her to paint him in order to get her painting again.  His instinct regarding her needs was correct, but his estimate of the time required was far too short and many evenings of her seeing him without looking at him leave them both slightly unsettled.  This in combination with Charlotte’s attraction to a very pale Englishman suggest she does see Henry’s difference, even if she does not name it or admit it to herself.

I was unsettled myself by this novel and by its ending.  It is atmospheric, but not satisfying.  I wanted to shake both Henry and Charlotte at the same time that I longed to put them in the 1980s or 1990s to see if they would fall into the same patterns or if the 1960s were just too much for them.  Several times I offered thanks to the gods that I was born in a time of more domestic conveniences and in which women were able and expected to continue working and having professional identities, even though such opportunity gave rise to its own difficulties.