C. K. August
Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, traveling to Norway
Lo Blacklock, a magazine travel writer is thrilled to replace her pregnant boss on the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise liner, Aurora Borealis. Yes, you guessed it, the Aurora Borealis, has a Norwegian crew and sails out of an English port toward the Arctic Circle with Trondheim, Norway as its destination.
The author doesn’t put much emphasis on Norway or Norwegians, but she luxurious with the crew serving multiple functions so the guests have all the services of larger cruise ship.
Hmnn . . . anyone remember the small, contained interiors, often luxurious, of Agatha Christie mysteries? Murder on the Orient Express is a prime example. Well-heeled, interesting people more or less locked away on a train. In Ware’s novel, they are more of less locked aboard a luxurious ship.
Lo calls the interior gobsmacking. “Every surface that could be French polished, encased in marble, or draped with raw silk had been so,” she writes. The centerpiece, which Ware returns to several times with great effect, was an “eye-watering” chandelier consisting of more than two thousand Swarovski crystals. The chandelier makes Lo slightly nauseated and disorientated, throwing her a bit off balance.
Actually, Lo seems to exist in a permanently woozy state. She consumes a truly stunning amount of alcohol, and Ware frequently pokes the reader with this fact as Lo tries to keep track of how much alcohol she has consumed but can’t manage that just as she constantly tells herself to stop drinking and then accepts still another glass of champagne.
Ah, the crafty writer. When Lo thinks she hears a body thrown overboard, not only the first officer, but the reader and Lo herself doubt her perceptions. Was there a woman in cabin 10? Not according to the records.
Having a murder in international waters is complicated. For one thing, the ship is probably registered in the Cayman Islands. For another thing, exactly where were they when the supposed murder took place? Who has jurisdiction?
Oh . . . did I mention the secret doors and passageways aboard the ship? And the fact that the ship’s staff seem to be a world apart from the passengers. Like Agatha Christie, Ware has assembled a cast of forbidding characters. All of it taken together, leave poor Lo flailing as she tries to come to terms with what she might have heard.
Eventually, the Aurora Borealis makes it to Norway and into a fjord. The ship’s destination, Trondheim, is one of the most picturesque places in Norway. The author, probably wisely, does not take the reader there. Instead she sticks to more mysterious rural places where the inhabitants are less likely to speak English.
The section in Norway is one of my favorite sections. Ware describes it so well that it stuck in my imagination for days, almost as strongly as the ship, the Aurora Borealis, which occupies the bulk of the book. Does Lo see the Aurora Borealis? I imagine an editor might have insisted on it or leave a trail of disappointed readers. Yes, she does but the author uses the sighting well but does not make much of it.
The Woman in Cabin Ten is a satisfying read and readers will definitely feel as if they’ve been on a journey.