This story takes place over a whole day and night aboard the ship RMS Aquitania. It is on the 31st of December, 1938, that Katerina Kova finds she is alone, unchaperoned, on board the ship. Her every thought and action is described as she roams the ship, meeting and observing people who are crossing the Atlantic Ocean with her.
Katerina is an Ambassador’s daughter, and she and her mother are travelling together on one of their frequent moves around the world. Anna, the mother, has a psychotic episode where she pulls out her eye, and so she has to be restrained in the hospital by the ship’s doctor. The daughter sits by her sedated mother for a while, but then begins to roam the ship. She helps to feed her father’s dogs, and gets bitten. Then she wanders around the deck, and sees a man she believes is contemplating suicide. They talk for a while and she realizes he is seriously unhappy.
Next the girl goes down to the lower deck, but on the way sees a young sailor standing outside a cabin. He has been set to guard the room, as the male passenger, who occupied the room has died, and is surrounded by pornographic books. The sailor and the girl chat about how unfair it is that he has been left there, and joke that he should order a lunch to be sent down. Many of the meetings and conversations that she has are strange, as is an occurrence, where a page of the bible has been pushed under her door.
Katerina is thinking of her mother, and her father who is Russian. She also has a brother who has joined the army but is being bullied mercilessly by those who don’t understand his poetry. As she meanders through the ship, meeting people at random and visiting various rooms, having sex in one, she becomes more introspective. Each of the characters she meets has an antisocial flaw, and a certain sadistic quality. There is no doubt, Katerina is trapped.
The cover of this book is black. The contents show the blackest of human nature and thought. The ending is black, and as filled with mystery as the rest of the tale. Noir literature which is as challenging as the subject matter from which the author has derived the plot.