I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my ow. Publication date: April 26, 2022
This is such a weird book it’s hard to know where to start. Weird doesn’t mean bad though; discomfiting strikes me as a good description for Lara Williams latest book. Having read Supper Club, I knew to expect something in the “messy women” genre. But where Supper Club seemed to be about women taking back their power through food, The Odyssey seemed more about a woman giving up everything to the control of others. Maybe, in the end, to regain her own power though, I’ll admit, it was never entirely clear to me.
Ingrid is our narrator here. She works aboard the WA, a huge cruise ship that has been her whole world for several years now. She cycles through a rotation of jobs – gift shop employee, nail technician, lifeguard – and has only 2 friends, Mia and Ezra, with whom she plays disturbing and odd games. Her life and the novel itself is broken up by incidences of shore leave where she gets obliteratingly drunk and makes increasingly dangerous and unhinged decisions. On board the WA she has been chosen to be part of something referred to only as “The Program”. This is lead by an enigmatic man named Keith who encourages Ingrid to reveal the most intimate details of her past to him.
As someone who doesn’t generally find cruise ships appealing (and especially so in 2022), I thought the setting of the WA was quite brilliantly done. An entire, carnivalesque world unto itself where Ingrid has endless choices at her fingertips but is also trapped. The ship seems enormous but her own space is small and limited. As the novel progresses, the atmosphere of the WA becomes more dangerous, more hideous, and more satirical. The WA, it turns out, is something more like a cult than an ordinary workplace and the things it asks of its employees become more jarring and horrific. Williams does a good job of establishing Ingrid as the sort of character who will go along with these things. And while I actually really dislike reading books where characters make one bad decision after another, I also didn’t struggle to believe that the employees of the WA would do these things. It reminded me of the cults you read about, like NXIM or even some of the more intense MLMs, that demand utter devotion. Ingrid is a character looking to be utterly devoted to something.
As the story progressed, I could feel it ramping it up and I looked forward to the twist or the reveal or the vindication. So I was disappointed in the ending where all of that was only briefly hinted at. I wanted to see Ingrid’s transformation, even if it was into something even more hideous.