Book Review: The Odyssey by Lara Williams

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.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: The Odyssey by Lara Williams”

    1. I don’t see this being a book you enjoy at all, to be honest. It was definitely an ending that left me feeling like I hadn’t figured any of it out but maybe another reader would get more…

  1. As someone who will drop everything to watch Mighty Ships on television, I love the idea of a story set on a cruise ship. It’s a shame the ending wasn’t more definite. I’m tempted to look out for this though, along with Supper Club.

    1. It’s a great setting and there are elements that work really well because of where it’s set. Using land vs sea to delineate the character’s behaviour works really well too. I would recommend Supper Club over this one but if you like Supper Club then maybe you would enjoy this too.

  2. Shame that the ending didn’t really work, as the premise sounds fascinating. Cruise ships have never appealed to me in the past, but they sort of do at the moment – though I think just because I’d like to go on a very low-effort holiday, not because a cruise appeals specifically!

    1. Cruise ships just seem like floating vessels of disease to me now! I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go on one. I can agree that a low-effort holiday sounds very nice though!

  3. I have never wanted to go on a cruise out on the open ocean. I had a violin teacher years ago who said cruises were the worst, and so boring. It almost seems like an over-sized party boat, and I’m not a part woman, so there’s that. I will say that my interpreting professor has loads of stories about interpreting on cruises, though, which sometimes includes under water diving/interpreting!

    1. There’s very little about a cruise that appeals to me and even more so in a post-Covid world where they just seem like disease-ridden traps! It does make for a really interesting setting for this story though and Williams uses it well to her advantage. Underwater interpretation sounds so wild but makes so much sense too. Don’t divers often use some sort of sign language to communicate anyway?

    2. Now I’m sort of imagining their signing like baseball players or a SWAT team. Although imagining a diver taking the time to sign out, “Oh no, a shark” is pretty hilarious!

  4. This sounds like a very strange book, but it also appeals to me. I went on one cruise when I was younger, but I’ve heard they are quite environmentally destructive, so I’m going to avoid going on any future ones if possible! I totally believe that people do crazy stuff in cults though, you are so right about that. I’d be disappointed with the ending too – tell me how it all ends! hahah

    1. The more I learn about cruises and how they’re run and the impact they have on both the environment and the places they visit, the less likely they are something I’ll ever do or support. But it does make for a great setting and lends itself well to that insular, cult-like environment. Did you ever read Supper Club? Or one of those books like Eileen or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine? This fits in well with those kinds of narrators.

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