The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Audiobook narrated by Imogen Church
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio, July 2016
It feels so weird to me that I am reviewing a book that pretty much everyone else has read. That doesn’t happen often at Grab the Lapels, as my original mission was to champion little presses, find new voices, and focus on women. However, my book club chose this book, and I was mostly happy that Ware fits into my “ladies only” theme! The Woman in Cabin 10 was difficult to procure (a protest I raised when the book was chosen), and I was only able to get the audiobook. If you’re never tried audiobooks, the good voice actors tend to have more emotion and bring multiple characters to life rather than simply “reading” the story. The bad voice narrators: pee-yew! The big downside, though, is that audiobooks take what feels like forever to get through. And I listened to Imogen Church read Ware’s book for almost two weeks.
The Woman in Cabin 10 is about British journalist Lo Blacklock, who has managed to settle for a job at Velocity, a magazine about travel. Not exactly the investigative stuff Lo dreamed she’d do after college. When her boss cannot attend a work event on a luxury boat, the Aurora Borealis, Lo goes instead, hoping this is her chance to show she deserves a promotion. The night before she is set to leave on the ship, she wakes to find a man in her apartment. He traps her in her room and robs the place. Lo is frazzled, feels violated, perhaps breaks up with her boyfriend (she’s not 100% sure that’s what they decided), and boards the Aurora Borealis for a week. As a result, Lo doesn’t sleep much for days. She has a drink (or several) to calm herself down. Ware sets readers up clearly to have an unreliable narrator. Because, of course, something has to happen.
The first night, as Lo dresses for dinner, she remembers her purse was stolen during the break in, so she has no mascara. She bangs on Cabin 10’s door and borrows some from a young woman, whose room looks unkempt like that of a teenager’s. Later, sleepless, Lo is startled in the middle of the night on the Aurora Borealis, sure she’s heard a scream and a splash, sure she see’s blood on the railing of the veranda to Cabin 10. But when ship security finds nothing and shows her Cabin 10 is empty, the doubts flood in.
Imogen Church is an excellent voice actress. Her voice soothes; I wanted to listen. Church narrates Blacklock’s fear with trembles in her voice and urgency in her pleas. Every sentence is rich with emotion. However, this is what slows the reading time down. Also, the audiobook has really long stretches between tracks. The chapters of the book are each one audio track, meaning if I didn’t have 30-45 minutes, I couldn’t start a chapter for fear of losing my place. With a book, I may read 10-15 pages and stop, which takes about 10 minutes.
Since my husband is in the book club too, he procured a copy of The Woman in Cabin 10 and was patient enough for the hardcover version. I compared his text to what I had listened to. During the break in, Lo thinks the following: “Please, I thought. Please don’t hurt me. Oh God, where was my phone?” But Church’s voice digs up the terror. I was scared for Lo! Honestly, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the hardcover book. All the pleading might have sounded forced, and thus I recommend the audiobook over the hardcover edition.
I also noticed that Church uses different voices for all characters. Many of the employees on the Aurora Borealis are Norwegian. Church does them all with accents in addition to male and female British passengers, some who sound husky, others who are jovial. Church captures Lo’s boyfriend, Judah from Brooklyn, too. In the hardcover version, though, none of the voices are written in dialect. It would have been easy for me to forget that so many characters are Norwegian and that the Aurora Borealis is headed toward Norway. Basically, the voices reinforce the setting.
While I tend to avoid mystery-thriller books for their predictability or outlandish plots that attempt to avoid the unpredictable, I mostly appreciated The Woman in Cabin 10 for all the smaller issues Lo points out. For example, she doesn’t feel like she belongs on the Aurora Borealis because the rooms are around $8,000 per night. Lo notices the ship is like a doll house: everything extravagant, but sized down. The staff have such small quarters compared to the guests. The staff rooms aren’t bad — the staff note that their quarters are much worse on other ships — but the smallness of the rooms for the workers strikes Lo, and I appreciated Ware’s attention to class differences.
Also, Lo points out that the women guests are tiny, sleek, hungry-looking, while the men are rotund and could survive a shipwreck for ages. The double standard — men can be fat and powerful while women must almost disappear to be noticed — stood out to me in a positive way. Ware’s narrator doesn’t float through reality, she pays attention to it. Smartly, the narrator’s attention to class and gender come back ever so subtly in the last ten or so chapters of the book. You may have even forgotten there’s a connection, but if you’re paying attention too, you will be rewarded.
Although Hollywood films would have us believe strong women must shoot weapons, save worlds, and practically be ninjas (all while wearing form-fitting leather), Lo Blacklock is a strong woman with a regular personality and body.
She can’t climb over high walls, and the stairs may make her a bit winded. But she defends herself. When security on the Aurora Borealis suggest Lo may have not seen or heard anything that first night, she tells the man to stop speaking because he doesn’t have a right to make her feel crazy or shut out her voice. Security mentions that another passenger said Lo drank a lot and that she takes anti-depressants. Such a combo is sure way to destroy a person’s authority, but Lo throws security out of her room for such utter disrespect and lack of concern. If only all women could stand up for their own voices — and that includes me — what a different world it would.