Lo Blacklock is not a very well-off character. Her flat, a dark space with cheap locks and barred windows, is in a downscale part of London. When she has the chance to go on a luxury cruise, Lo immediately feels ill at ease in the midst of such conspicuous affluence. Although the novel doesn’t position wealth as inherently bad, it has the potential for great harm, and Lo quickly discovers that extreme wealth can in fact be used as a weapon. Using Lord Richard Bullmer as her prime example, Ware highlights how those with wealth consequently have the dangerous power to silence, disempower, and even control the destinies of those who are less well-off.
The Aurora’s over-the-top luxury has a disorienting effect, contrasting shockingly with the living quarters of the ship’s staff. This forms a stark comparison between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and begins to suggest that those without wealth are at the mercy of those who have it. When Lo boards the ship, she’s immediately bombarded by the light of an “eye-watering chandelier, suffusing the place … it was slightly nauseating … throwing you off-balance with a sensation like peering into a child’s kaleidoscope.” She later feels the same about the extravagant drawing room, “spectacularly impractical for a public vessel … like a perfect replica of a drawing room in a five-star hotel,” but miniaturized, “a little like looking in through the doorway of a doll’s house.”
These details, giving Lo a sense that her perception is being manipulated, make it all the more shocking when she visits the staff area of the ship and sees the comparative dinginess of the lower decks, “a completely different feel to the passenger part of the ship … but it was the light that made me feel instantly claustrophobic—dim and fluorescent, with a strange high-frequency flicker that made your eyes tire almost at once.” While the public sections of the ship dazzle, the staff sections stifle.
Thinking about the “windowless confines,” Lo reflects that it isn’t the space itself that’s so shocking, but “the graphic illustration of the gap between the haves and have nots … a modern upstairs-downstairs in action.” Long before there’s much clue that Lord Bullmer, the yacht’s wealthy owner, has any connection to the sinister happenings on the ship, there’s a sense that wealth engulfs, overwhelms, and silences those whose work sustains their employer’s wealth.
This sense of contrast between the haves and have-nots is most blatantly exhibited by Carrie, the “girl from cabin 10” who’s been secretly staying on the Aurora—an accessory to Bullmer, but also his victim. Even more than the staff, Carrie is truly invisible and silent onboard ship. As Lo is the only character to notice her existence and disappearance, and later to detect the suffering underneath Carrie’s foolish choices, Ware suggests that only someone like Lo—herself unaccustomed to wealth and privilege—is able to see and hear Carrie as she really is.
Carrie is very much a “have-not” swept up in a scenario bigger than she expected. Carrie met the wealthy Lord Bullmer while working as a waitress at an exclusive club, “trying to make it as an actress … penniless me, and him, falling in love, showing me this life I’d never dreamed of.” Carrie tells Lo how Bullmer persuaded her to impersonate his gravely ill wife, Anne, so that Bullmer could—it turns out—murder Anne to claim her inheritance while at sea, forcing Carrie to perform much of the dirty work. Carrie’s situation—including the likelihood that Bullmer will dispose of her, too, since he’s mainly using her as a means of getting rid of Anne—underlines Ware’s point that those without wealth sometimes find themselves dangerously at the mercy of those who have it.
Bullmer’s reach, facilitated by his wealth, seems to make him invincible. After Lo escapes the Aurora and finds refuge—or so she thinks—at a hotel along a remote fjord, she hears the manager calling Bullmer instead of the police, upon which the Aurora immediately turns around and sails back toward her. Until then, Lo “hadn’t believed Carrie’s assertions about Richard’s web of influence, not really. I’d dismissed them as the paranoia of a woman too beaten down to believe in the possibility of escape.” Now that Lo sees the truth, she flees the hotel and, later, a policeman, suffering from exposure and injury as she wanders the Norwegian countryside. She’d been wrong to doubt that “anyone, however wealthy, could have the kind of reach” Carrie had warned that Bullmer did.
Lo doesn’t find safety until she stumbles into a barn belonging to an elderly rural farmer—a “have-not” who matters too little for Bullmer to care about. The extremity of Lo’s situation illustrates the point that one practically has to go to the ends of the earth—often displaying tremendous grit—in order to outrun influence like Bullmer’s. Though it is ultimately Bullmer’s choices that make him so malicious, his stunning wealth is what allows him to effectively control all those below him.
At the end of the book, Lo reflects on the way that wealth can control everyone and everything—including journalism. Lo’s boss at Velocity, for instance, “spends half her life reporting the stories that people like Bullmer want her to tell, and I don’t want that, not anymore.” Having nearly become a victim of Bullmer herself, Lo doesn’t want to enable or cater to people like him through her work, even in innocuous ways. While Ware certainly doesn’t argue that wealth inevitably creates murderous abusers like Lord Bullmer, she does suggest that it can readily become a tool to exploit and endanger those who lack its advantages.
Wealth and Power ThemeTracker
Wealth and Power 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 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.
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.”
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.
“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.”