It's 1914 and newlywed Grace Winter is travelling to New York on board the Empress Alexandra when it begins to sink. Her husband, Henry, manages to secure a place for her on a lifeboat that is already over capacity. As the days pass and those on board the lifeboat wait to be rescued, they come to the realisation that for anyone to live, some of them will have to die. The passengers break into groups and malicious gossip starts to spread as everyone tries desperately to save themselves at the expense of others. Grace has to decide which dominant personality she will support - Hardie, a sailor, or the powerful Mrs Grant, who already has the backing of all the women on board. Grace ends up on trial for murder in New York, but did she commit the crime?
I thoroughly enjoyed The Lifeboat and sped through it in just two days. It's a short, tightly paced novel where not a word is wasted. I tend to enjoy books that examine human nature in times of difficulty, so it was fascinating to see how the passengers changed as the threat to their survival increased. We may all think of ourselves as considerate and humane, but no one truly knows how they will react in a situation like this until it happens and for some of the passengers, the veneer of civilisation was stripped away completely. It became about power politics, about being in a group of passengers that could command power over everyone else. Of course, the view of humanity wasn't completely bleak, but it was the most survival-minded that lived long enough to be rescued.
Rogan's writing was simple but effective. I appreciated that she dove straight into the story rather than filling the first few chapters with background about Grace. Starting with Grace in jail was a good hook, it made me want to read on to find out whether she deserved to be there or not. I also liked how Rogan made Grace an unreliable narrator; the story is set up as though you are reading her diary, but there are quite a few gaps and errors in her account that are contested by other passengers later on. If anything, I wanted to see this theme further developed - I wanted it made very clear that Grace was not to be trusted and I wanted some closure as to who exactly was telling the truth at the end.
One criticism I will make of this book is that it was a bit tame. Maybe it's because I've read Jamrach's Menagerie recently, which also deals with survival after a shipwreck, but Rogan seems to shy away from what survival would actually entail. Grace complains of hunger and weakness but we never really feel the desperation and despair of the lifeboat passengers. I was expecting things to get a lot more grim than they did before the survivors were rescued. Jamrach's Menagerie was a bold, direct look at survival at all costs, The Lifeboat was more polite and more focused on the moral implications and decisions rather than the physicality of surviving. Out of the two, I preferred Jamrach's Menagerie although I still enjoyed The Lifeboat.
Overall, I found The Lifeboat to be an impressive debut novel and I'll be looking out for the next book that Charlotte Rogan writes.
First Published: 2012
Score: 4 out of 5
Thanks for a great review.ReplyDelete
Is this a whodunit? I think I need a book that I can run through - most of my books are kind of crawling along these days.ReplyDelete
No, I wouldn't describe it as a whodunit as the events are clearly described. It's all about motives and psychological guilt. It is one you can run through easily though, so still might be good?Delete
This sounds great Sam. First from Judith, and now you. I think I have to read it. I too like to read about human reaction under extreme conditions. Thanks for the review!ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it Jo! You should try Jamrach's Menagerie too.Delete
This book is on my very large list of books to check out. It sounds like a good one, especially if you can get through it in two days!ReplyDelete
I also have a massive list of books to check out and reserve at the library. Getting through a book so quickly is a great boost sometimes, especially if you have been reading chunkier books.Delete
As you know, this is my bookclub pick for August. I think after reading your review I'll read it next and just do a quick refresher before the meeting. Sounds good!ReplyDelete
Hi! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you recommend any other Fashion Write For Us blogs that go over the same topics? Thanks a ton!ReplyDelete