At the beginning of The Woman in Cabin 10, journalist Lo Blacklock thinks of her voyage on the Aurora—a luxury yacht cruising the Norwegian fjords—as a step toward career advancement, “a big present, fraught with responsibility and possibilities” that lands in her lap when her boss becomes ill. She hopes this gig will propel her toward a promotion, after ten years of working as a bottom-rung reporter at travel magazine Velocity. Though Lo mishandles the gig itself, she stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when Carrie, the woman in the adjacent cabin, disappears, and Lo refuses to be put off her investigation into Carrie’s whereabouts despite being threatened and locked up. Through Lo’s experience on the Aurora, Ware shows that career ambition and more personal instincts, like compassion, aren’t competing values; they can even work in tandem.
Veteran journalist Tina West, a fellow Aurora passenger, is introduced as an example of old-school female ambition. Editor of the Vernean Times, Tina is said to be willing to “skin her own grandmother for the sake of a story.” Tina is legendary in the world of travel journalism, having attained her status by “treading on the backs of more young women than you could count.” When Lo talks with Tina, however, she feels admiration for her, thinking “what it must have been like to be a female journalist in that generation, clawing your way up through the ranks of the old-boys’ network … maybe it wasn’t Tina’s fault” she couldn’t handle competing with other women in the same office.
When Tina dangles a freelance opportunity in front of Lo, Lo turns her down, distracted by the murder mystery on the ship. She quickly assumes she’s bungled the encounter, that her colleague Ben “would probably have scored a freelance contract by now, and sod the noncompete stuff.” But in light of a woman’s death, Lo thinks, “my career didn’t seem as important.” This shows that she’s willing to risk her own career advancement to pursue a critical story that emerges at an inconvenient time—a story she pursues out of genuine compassion and concern, at that. Though Lo is compassionate toward those who fought to secure women’s place in journalism, she isn’t willing to play by the same rules that governed the earlier generation. However, her very failure in that “game,” as she’s distracted by a lurking story, suggests that she’s a competent journalist herself.
Ironically, Lo demonstrates a better instinct for a scoop than the veteran journalists on board—precisely because she’s more motivated by compassion than by climbing the professional ladder. Instead of networking and studying the press pack she’s neglected, Lo feels compelled to interview ship staff to determine the whereabouts of the missing girl from Cabin 10—“as much as I wanted to climb the ladder at Velocity, some things were more important.”
On the second night of the cruise, though she’s afraid of whomever the murderer will prove to be, Lo looks in the mirror and remembers the “angry, idealistic” university student who’d dreamed of changing the world. She wonders how she can “look that girl … in the eye, if I didn’t have the courage to get out there and investigate a story that was staring me in the face.” Though she’s faltering as a travel journalist, Lo is alert to the story in front of her, and this reconnects her to her earlier, more idealistic ambition.
Toward the end of the book, Lo’s captivity and interactions with Carrie show Lo’s journalistic skills, guided by compassion rather than self-serving ambition, in action. Lo questions Carrie extensively, but follows her instincts about how best to approach her, choosing warmth, connection, and compassion over aggressive interrogation: “I couldn’t bring myself to voice that question [who killed Anne Bullmer] … my best hope was in persuading her that she wasn’t a killer.”
Lo relates to Carrie out of genuine kindness and is sensitive to how a traumatized Carrie is probably feeling. She recounts, “I put my hand out, almost timidly, and let it rest on her knee … I realized how frightened she was.” Lo also notices holes in Carrie’s story (“Objections crowded to the tip of my tongue, screaming to be unleashed”), showing her sharpness as a reporter, but she recognizes that Carrie is willfully blind to the fact that Lord Bullmer is using her, and that pushing her too fast will backfire by antagonizing her.
Lo has the story of her life at her fingertips, but under the circumstances, she is concerned both with her own survival and with Carrie’s plight. But journalistic savvy is shown not to be disconnected from tender instincts like compassion and empathy. In fact, Ware implies that it’s this very fighting instinct and sensitivity that give Lo great potential as a journalist.
At the end of the book, Lo realizes that she no longer cares about climbing the ladder at Velocity. Her harrowing experience helped her recognize that she doesn’t want to end up like Tina, “traveling from country to country and only seeing five-star hotels and Michelin restaurants … I want to write about the things people don’t want you to know … pulling my way up from the bottom again.” Her experience on the Aurora shows that Lo, through her own warm and instinctive brand of ambition, is capable of distinguishing herself in exactly this way.
Ambition and Compassion ThemeTracker
Ambition and Compassion Quotes in The Woman in Cabin 10
I knocked again, three sharp knocks, and then, as an afterthought, a final loud whack in case they were hard of hearing.
The door flew open, as if the occupant had been standing on the other side.
“What?” she demanded, almost before the door had opened. “Is everything okay?”
“I’m your neighbor,” I said. She was young and pretty with long dark hair, and she was wearing a ratty Pink Floyd T-shirt with holes, which somehow made me like her quite a lot.
I felt an odd reluctance to go into details, not just because talking about it brought back unpleasant flashes of what had happened but also out of a kind of pride. I wanted to sit at this table as a professional, the smooth, capable journalist able to take on all comers. I didn’t relish the portrait of myself as a frightened victim, cowering in my own bedroom […] I should have just stayed in my room, head beneath the duvet, was the truth. Stupid Lo, sticking your neck out.
We were passing the crew’s cabins again, and as we passed the few open doors I glanced in, shocked afresh at the dinginess of the cramped quarters. I couldn’t imagine spending week after week, month after month, in the windowless confines […] [I]t was [not] the space itself that shocked but the contrast with the light, airy rooms above […] But it was the graphic illustration of the gap between the haves and have-nots that was upsetting, a modern upstairs-downstairs in action.
…[T]he kind of publicity that an unexplained death would generate could sink the whole enterprise. Something like this could scupper the Aurora before she was even launched, and if that happened, everyone on board could lose their jobs, from the captain down to Iwona, the cleaner.
I knew that.
But I had heard something. Something that had made me start from my sleep with my heart pounding two hundred beats per minute, and my palms wet with sweat, and the conviction that somewhere very close by, another woman was in grave trouble. I knew what it was like to be that girl—to realize, in an instant, how incredibly fragile your hold on life could be, how paper-thin the walls of security really were.
I looked at her through the haze of smoke. Office gossip was that she had made her way up the corporate ladder by treading on the backs of more young women than you could count, and then, once she was through the glass ceiling, pulling the ladder up behind her […] But somehow, I couldn’t quite square [Rowan’s] remarks with the woman standing in front of me. I knew at least one ex-colleague who said she owed Tina her career, and as I looked at her now, her heavily made-up eyes laughing at me, I thought about what it must have been like to be a female journalist in that generation, clawing your way up through the ranks of the old-boys’ network.
As I applied mascara borrowed from Chloe in the bathroom mirror, I found myself searching for the angry, idealistic girl who’d started her journalism course at uni fifteen years ago, thinking of the dreams I’d had of becoming an investigative reporter and changing the world. Instead, I had fallen into travel writing at Velocity […] And that was fine—I wasn’t ashamed of the writer I’d become; like most people, I’d taken work where I could find it and tried to do the best I could in that job. But how could I look that girl in the mirror in the eye, if I didn’t have the courage to get out there and investigate a story that was staring me in the face?
“I think I lost sight of what I wanted. I don’t want to end up like Tina and Alexander, traveling from country to country and only seeing five-star hotels and Michelin restaurants. Yes, Rowan’s been to half the luxury resorts in the Caribbean, but in return she spends her life reporting the stories that people like Bullmer want her to tell, and I don’t want that, not anymore. I want to write about the things people don’t want you to know. And if I’m going to start pulling my way up from the bottom again, well, I can freelance from anywhere.”