The Odyssey by Lara Williams

The Odyssey is a novel about a woman working on a cruise ship whose avoidance of life and the world on dry land is tested by an employee improvement programme. Ingrid works in rotating roles on a huge cruise ship, where all training comes through her tablet and she might be called up to do almost anything. On her days of shore leave, she gets very drunk wherever they’ve docked. When the ship’s strange captain Keith, who thinks himself some kind of guru, picks her for an employee mentorship, suddenly Ingrid faces up to some memories. At the same time, the ship seems to be falling into disrepair.

I was intrigued by this book as it was pitched as similar to Ballard’s High Rise, which it is in some respects, with the closed off cruise ship gradually decaying, though The Odyssey is much more focused on one person’s mental state than the cruise ship itself. It explores Ingrid’s regimented life on the ship, and her memories of the past, including her husband and her alcoholism, and you watch as she makes various decisions (including having her finger cut off) as she tries to reconcile these. The first person narration feels similar to other books focused on a narrator with a strict regimen who is trying to avoid the past or their lack of a future, though the setting does make this one feel different.

One thing I was disappointed by was the fact that the cruise ship setting isn’t really explored as much as you might expect, especially not as things start to turn weird and twisted. I would’ve liked more of it, whether the Japanese obsession of the captain or what was going on with some of the other employees Ingrid knows, as it is a distinctive and unusual setting for literary fiction.

The Odyssey explores an alcoholic character whose avoidance of their past and future has led them to live a permanent present on a strange cruise ship. The protagonist is interesting and the narrative voice is readable, though as it’s quite short, I felt there could’ve been a bit more of the weirdness.