The Odyssey by Lara Williams - review by Francesca Peacock

Francesca Peacock

Batten Down the Hatches

The Odyssey


Hamish Hamilton 208pp £14.99

As its title suggests, Lara Williams’s The Odyssey is about a journey. Ingrid works on a cruise ship that crisscrosses the globe. The ship, the WA, is as large as some towns and comes complete with acres of swimming pools, restaurants and gift shops where long-term guests have an inconvenient habit of dying.

Within this floating world, something darker is taking place. Ingrid is selected to participate in a ‘self-improvement’ scheme by the ship’s enigmatic captain-CEO, Keith. His philosophy of wabi sabi – a Japanese world-view centred on transience and imperfection – requires total commitment from his employees. The ship falls into disrepair as certainties about time and place slip away. All that remains is a relentless corporate culture that asks for disconcerting and farcical sacrifices from those on board.

Ingrid herself is, quite literally, sailing away from the real world. Comparisons to Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation – another novel in which a woman’s decision to abdicate herself of ‘normal’ responsibilities becomes a satire on contemporary culture – are unavoidable. Whereas Moshfegh’s heroine chooses to

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