In Ruth Ware’s mystery thriller The Woman in Cabin 10, journalist Laura “Lo” Blacklock finds herself trapped at several points in the story—first when her flat is robbed, and later aboard the luxury yacht Aurora. While on the Aurora, where Lo is writing a piece for a travel magazine, she accidentally catches wind of a crime that has taken place in the cabin next to hers and is later captured for knowing too much. Lo must summon all her resources to forestall panic and try to find a way out. In both situations, Lo ultimately discovers that being stuck is less frightening than finding herself completely alone. In other words, the psychological effects of entrapment, and specifically the feeling of being cut off from other people, are harder to bear than the physical ones, and—as Lo learns when she befriends her captor, Carrie—they are also much harder to escape.
The novel is bookended by examples of literal entrapment, and isolation marks the story throughout. While the experience of being physically trapped and isolated is terrifying for Lo in all these instances, the common thread is her anxiety of not being able to get help from other people. The novel begins with Lo being trapped inside her flat’s bedroom by a burglar who removes the spindle from the doorknob. She spends two hours hacking at the latch with a nail file before being able to flee to a neighbor’s flat to call the police. Her ID, phone, money, and all other vital belongings have been stolen.
Aboard the Aurora, Lo becomes convinced that Carrie—a young woman she knows at first as only “the girl from Cabin 10”—has been murdered, but she’s actually an accessory to yacht owner Richard Bullmer’s killing of his wife, Anne. Carrie lures Lo out of her cabin and attacks her in hopes of stopping her pursuit of the truth and silencing her. Afterward, Lo awakens to discover she’s trapped in a “windowless room … small and stifling.” After realizing that the door can’t be forced open, Lo must work hard to stave off a panic attack, knowing that the seemingly airless space could become her tomb. As if this weren’t horrifying enough, Lo is abandoned by her oblivious fellow passengers when they disembark from the cruise at Bergen, Norway. She experiences despair for the first time, facing “the endless sentence of waiting … for someone who would never come.”
Even after Lo escapes the Aurora, she finds herself isolated in a different way. As she roams across endless Norwegian countryside, she’s encircled by the seemingly endless reach of wealthy Lord Bullmer’s sphere of influence, because he’s cultivated friendships everywhere she goes for help, even among the police. She’s also isolated by her lack of money and inability to speak Norwegian. Throughout these experiences, Lo shows resourcefulness and strength; it’s isolation from other human beings that deeply frightens her.
After experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be trapped, Lo is able to think about her captor’s own emotional entrapment in a different way and seek a connection with her accordingly. Lo’s and Carrie’s connection is, paradoxically, the beginning of freedom for both of them and points to how being emotionally trapped can be far more challenging to escape than physical confines. Thinking over her conversations with Carrie, Lo remembers the sadness in her face and wonders if Carrie, by falling in love with Bullmer and cooperating with his schemes, “had come face-to-face with something she was not ready for.” Later, musing that she might have Stockholm syndrome—a sense of emotional dependence on one’s captor—Lo realizes that Carrie “had a considerably more advanced case than I did. Maybe that was closer to the truth—we weren’t captor and captive, but two animals in different compartments of the same cage. Hers was just slightly larger.”
Carrie brings Lo a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh to read while she’s trapped in the windowless room on the boat, and the book becomes a point of connection between the two, as they share childhood memories of identifying with the book. The two women’s connection eventually leads to Carrie’s plan to switch places with Lo, at risk of her own life, so that Lo has a chance of escaping the ship. Although Carrie struggles to accept the truth about Bullmer’s cruel intentions toward her, Lo’s compassion has helped Carrie realize she isn’t alone in her situation, and she’s now able to imagine and take a chance on a life free from Bullmer’s snare.
At the end of the book, as Lo talks with her boyfriend, Judah, about her ordeal, she reflects that “people can be sucked into doing something out of fear, or inability to see any other way out.” Carrie, Lo knows, wore “masks … to hide the terror and loneliness inside.” In that way, Carrie was trapped more than her captive, Lo. While Lo just needed to escape the Aurora—a risky flight in its own way—Carrie had to extricate herself from her love and dependence on Bullmer, as well as face up to her complicity in his crimes.
At the beginning of the book, Lo had seemed to be in a rut, isolated by her own choice—huddling in a lonely apartment, frequently using alcohol to smooth social interactions, and resistant to committing fully to Judah. After her ordeal, however, she finds she’s received concerned messages even from people she’d assumed she’d alienated, suggesting that she’s not as isolated as she’d thought. She also initiates the decision to move to New York with Jude. Fighting her way out of the Aurora seems to have renewed her confidence in her ability to connect meaningfully with others, helping her become less stuck in her own life.
Entrapment and Isolation ThemeTracker
Entrapment and Isolation Quotes in The Woman in Cabin 10
It seemed impossible that everything mentioned in the brochure—library, sunroom, spa, sauna, cocktail lounge, and all the other things apparently indispensable to the Aurora’s pampered passengers—could fit into this miniature vessel. Its size, along with the perfection of its paintwork, gave it a curiously toylike quality, and as I stepped onto the narrow steel gangway I had a sudden disorienting image of the Aurora as a ship imprisoned in a bottle—tiny, perfect, isolated, and unreal—and of myself, shrinking down to match it with every step I took towards the boat. It was a strange feeling, as if I were looking down the wrong end of a telescope, and it gave me a dizzying sensation almost like vertigo.
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.
If someone had been walking along the deck outside and had glanced in the window, they would never have known that I had just told him something that could deal a sucker punch to his business, and revealed the presence of a possible psychopath on board a small ship. As my story unfolded I was expecting echoes of Nilsson’s distress, or the clannish denial of the stewardesses, but although I watched Bullmer’s face carefully, I saw neither of those, no hint of accusation or censure […] With Bullmer, I couldn’t tell what he was feeling. Was he furious, or panicked, and simply hiding it well? Or was he really as cool and calm as he seemed?
I was so busy thinking about Ben that as I rounded the corner near the upper-deck toilet, I almost tripped over Anne Bullmer. She was leaning back against the wall as if steeling herself for something, although whether to return to the party, or make her way back to her cabin, I wasn’t sure. She looked extremely tired, her face gray, the shadows around her eyes darker than ever […]
“I’m fine, I’m just very tired. Sometimes…” She swallowed, and her voice cracked for a moment, something in the cut-glass English accent slipping. “Sometimes it all just seems too much—d’you know what I mean? Such a performance.”
It wasn’t just the blood she wiped away. When she came out, I froze. With that one simple act, I realized who she was.
In wiping away the blood she had wiped both her eyebrows clean off, leaving a smooth, skull-like forehead that was instantly, unbearably recognizable.
The woman in Cabin 10 was Anne Bullmer.
While Richard was back in Lars’s cabin, establishing his alibi with an uninterrupted poker game, the woman in Cabin 10 had bundled the real Anne overboard and hoped that the body would never be found.
And they would have got away with it, if I—frightened and traumatized from the burglary—hadn’t heard the splash and jumped to a conclusion that was so wrong, it was almost completely right.
So who was she? […] I had no idea. But I knew one thing—she was my best hope of getting out of here alive.
“Shut up!” She put her hands over her ears, shaking her head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Neither of us wanted to be in this situation!”
“Really? You think it’s coincidence he fell in love with someone who bears a startling resemblance to Anne? He planned this from the beginning. You’re just a means to an end […] All the money, without the controlling wife—I think he had that carrot waved in front of his nose by Anne’s illness […] And when the doctors gave her the all clear, he didn’t want to let go of it—is that right?”
I didn’t think she was a killer, not by choice, anyway. And something had happened these last few days that had made her realize that. I thought of the long, nightmarish wait for her to come, the way the hours had ticked past so slowly for me, my hunger growing and growing inexorably. But now, for the first time, I thought that perhaps the hours had been as slow and torturous for her, too, and perhaps she, too, had come face-to-face with something she was not ready for. She must have imagined me down here, growing weaker and weaker, clawing at the door. Until at last her resolve broke and she ran down with a stolen plate of lukewarm food.
I thought about it after she left—the stupidity of thanking a woman who was keeping you captive, buying your compliance by withholding food and drugs. Was I developing Stockholm syndrome?
Maybe. Although if I was, she had a considerably more advanced case than I did. Maybe that was closer to the truth—we weren’t captor and captive, but two animals in different compartments of the same cage. Hers was just slightly larger.
Somehow I would get off this boat, if not for me, then for Anne, and Carrie. No—Fuck it.
I was getting off this boat for me—because I had done nothing to deserve this apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I was damned if Bullmer was going to add me to the list of women he had screwed over.
The lights were not to the east but to the north. What I could see was not dawn but the eerie green and gold streaks of the northern lights.
The realization made me laugh—a bitter, mirthless choke that sounded shockingly loud in the still night air. What was it Richard had said? Everyone should see the northern lights before they died. Well, now I had. But it just didn’t seem that important anymore.
With each step, I remembered Carrie’s frantic exhortations to get running and get out—her hysterical assertions about the reach of Richard’s influence.
It didn’t seem so hysterical now.
If only I had believed her—I should never have shown Anne’s ID at the hotel, or trusted Erik with even the few details I’d given him. But I just hadn’t quite believed that anyone, however wealthy, could have the kind of reach Carrie believed. Now I realized I was wrong. […]
What was I going to do? […] My best hope was finding a police station, but how? Where? And did I dare tell them the truth when I got there?
I thought of Carrie’s terror, of the bruises on her body, of her belief that she would never escape Richard. She had been right. Judah said nothing, and I could not see his expression in the dark, but I felt his silent disagreement.
“What,” I demanded, “you don’t believe me? You don’t think people can be sucked into doing something out of fear, or inability to see any other way out?”
“No, it’s not that,” Judah said slowly. “I believe that […] But you can’t tell me that you’d do that to another person, no matter how tough things seemed—lock them up like that, imprison them—no matter how scared you were.”
“I don’t know,” I said. I thought of Carrie, of how brave she had been, and how fragile. I thought of the masks she wore to hide the terror and loneliness inside.