In The Woman in Cabin 10, Lo Blacklock’s anxiety is a recurrent part of the narrative. Anxiety causes real problems in Lo’s life, and her coping strategies are sometimes haphazard. By the end of the novel, however, Lo has not only managed her anxiety successfully, she has also overcome terrifying circumstances in order to help the mysterious woman in Cabin 10. In having her smart and capable protagonist also grapple with crippling anxiety—and ultimately help others in the process—Ware de-stigmatizes mental illness and shows that conditions like anxiety can even make sufferers more resilient and empathetic to others in need.
At the start of the novel, Lo’s anxiety and trauma are all-consuming. After the break-in at her apartment, Lo is so traumatized that she semi-consciously attacks her boyfriend, Judah, with a lamp, when he comes home unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Anxiety is so pervasive in her life that Lo uses alcohol to self-medicate, particularly when she’s unable to sleep (“At 3:35 a.m. … I gulped [a gin and tonic] down like medicine”) and when she has flashbacks to the burglary.
Lo initially sees her struggles as a limitation on her ability to network professionally. On the first night of the Aurora cruise, when the subject of the burglary comes up, she is reluctant to talk about it, wanting to seem “the smooth, capable journalist able to take on all comers,” not “a frightened victim, cowering in my own bedroom.” Lo even second-guesses herself on the basis of her shaky mental state. After reporting the murder she believes she’s overheard to Johann Nilsson, head of the ship’s security, she taunts herself: “Cowering in the shower because of a door blowing shut in the wind … You’re not exactly the most reliable witness.” In light of her anxiety and responses to trauma, Lo is initially presented as if she’s not the most stable or believable person.
By giving insight into Lo’s struggles with mental health, Ware presents anxiety as a normal, manageable part of life. Lo has a matter-of-fact perspective on her illness. She reflects that there’s no obvious reason she should be stricken with anxiety, having had a happy childhood. For her, it’s something “stranger, more chemical, something that no talking cure was going to fix,” and pills are “like wearing makeup—not a disguise, but a way of making myself more how I really am, less raw.” Lo’s outlook suggests that mental illness falls within the range of normal human experiences, and it shouldn’t carry a stigma.
When Lo tells Nilsson about her missing mascara—the only tangible evidence she’d had of the now-disappeared girl in Cabin 10—he uncomfortably points out that alcohol and antidepressants don’t mix. “No matter,” Lo thinks furiously, “that I’ve been taking—and drinking on—those pills for years. No matter that I had anxiety attacks, not delusions.” Despite her own occasional self-doubt, Lo recognizes that a history of mental illness shouldn’t discount a person’s credibility out of hand.
Though anxiety has created challenges for Lo, and she hasn’t always responded to them perfectly, she is portrayed as a capable, resilient person, even in the midst of the nightmare scenario of being held captive. Not only is Lo shown to be capable despite her anxiety, but Lo’s struggles with mental health even fuel her willingness to pursue the murder case and her ability to resolve it. Wane highlights that Lo’s deep-rooted anxiety has actually made her more sensitive and empathetic, qualities that are instrumental in solving the murder case.
As Lo waits in the locked room in the depths of the Aurora, she realizes that “they would have got away with [murder], 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.” Her trauma and anxiety, then—while not good things in and of themselves—have heightened her sensitivity to possible trauma in others’ lives. With this, Ware implies that Lo’s trauma and anxiety can actually work to her advantage, making her a stronger ally for vulnerable people than she might otherwise be.
Ultimately, it’s this openness to others’ suffering that, arguably, saves Lo’s life. Lo reminds Carrie, the newly identified “woman in cabin 10,” at every opportunity that “I had fought for her and tried to help her,” and it’s this statement of empathy that makes Carrie decide to attempt the implausible plan to switch places with Lo, in the hope that Lo can escape the ship.
Just as importantly, due to her own struggles, Lo feels compassion for Carrie’s situation. Even after being imprisoned and starved, Lo imagines that the ordeal must have taken a toll on Carrie as well—“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.” This compassion enables Lo to get Carrie talking about her own story of being in thrall to Lord Bullmer, billionaire owner of the Aurora. Lo even recognizes that “we weren’t captor and captive, but two animals in different compartments of the same cage.” Her experiences of terror over the past week, along with the pain of shouldering her anxiety for so long, have made her ready to empathize with Carrie’s own vulnerability, leading to moments of bonding and ultimately to cooperation that helps free both of them.
Ware doesn’t make light of Lo’s lifelong anxiety or the trauma she’s recently experienced. By tightly weaving anxiety into the novel’s action, she shows the impact such an illness can have on one’s daily functioning. At the same time, this same condition makes Lo more attuned to others’ pain, and her past experiences have given her the tools to respond to frightening circumstances. By showing that there’s more to Lo than meets the eye at the beginning of the novel, Ware argues that the same should be assumed about others with similar challenging conditions.
Trauma, Mental Illness, and Resilience ThemeTracker
Trauma, Mental Illness, and Resilience Quotes in The Woman in Cabin 10
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.
…[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.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, psychotherapy—none of it really worked in the way that the pills did. Lissie says she finds the notion of chemically rebalancing your mood scary, she says it’s the idea of taking something that could alter how she really is. But I don’t see it that way; for me it’s like wearing makeup—not a disguise, but a way of making myself more how I really am, less raw. The best me I can be.
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?
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.
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.