The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: Review

lifeboatWhen an author squashes a  disparate group of passengers from a luxury ocean liner  into a small lifeboat and sets them adrift in a mid Atlantic, it’s likely a high quota of the narrative will feature tales of endurance against the elements and hostilities between the survivors.  As the castaways in The Lighthouse see hopes of an early rescue fade, their struggle for survival takes on a far more menacing aspect. For some of them to survive, some of them must die.

Who gets to live in those circumstances?  Who deserves to die?  And who has the right to make those decisions?  Those questions lie at the heart of Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel.

It’s an extraordinarily intense narrative told through the eyes of one passenger, twenty-two- year-old Grace Winter. Newly-married Grace is onboard the luxury liner  Empress Alexandra when it sinks after a mysterious explosion.  Her rich banker husband Henry dies but Grace manages to squeeze into an already-overloaded lifeboat minutes before it pushes away from the wreckage, ignoring the screams of other passengers fighting to stay afloat in the icy waters.

Against all the odds, some passengers from Lifeboat 14 do survive. I’m not giving away any spoilers here because the book actually opens with Grace on trial for murder. Her account of almost three weeks at sea is a retrospective journal written on the advice of her defence lawyer.

How much can we trust her version of events which culminates in the murder of Captain Hardie, the only trained sailor on Lifeboat 14?

We know she is a single-minded woman; one of life’s natural survivors (her surname may be a hint to her true character). Even her marriage was the result of a determined effort to track down and marry a wealthy young man so she wouldn’t face a life of poverty after  her father’s bankruptcy and suicide. In the lifeboat she is similarly astute; carefully navigating the politics over who sits where, finely judging the nature of each passenger and questioning the Captain’s account of what happened on the Empress Alexandra.

Now she faces another fight for her life:

 “You survived out there in the boat, now you have to survive in here,” says her lawyer. “And don’t make the mistake of thinking the situation is any different now.”

Whether she convinces the jury of her innocence is something you’ll have to read the book to discover. But she doesn’t convince her fellow passengers  “You’re not as weak as you pretend to be,” hisses her co-defendent Hannah at one point during the trial.

Innocent or guilty,  in Grace Winter, Charlotte Rogan has created a character of tremendous psychological power; a character whose true nature remains a mystery to the end.

It’s a tremendous read. One definitely not to be missed.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on April 9, 2013, in Book Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I have this on home from the library right now so I’m glad to hear it’s good. I read Jamrach’s Menagerie recently and loved it, particularly after the shipwreck, so I’m looking forward to this one.

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  2. This sounds great, Karen.

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  3. I loved this book! I was lucky to have won it in a giveaway and I kept thing “Lord of the Flies” on water.

    Here’s my review: http://guiltlessreading.blogspot.com/2012/09/life-boat-by-charlotte-rogan.html

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  4. Have you read ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, which has something of the same premise behind it? It cropped up on one of my book group lists last year and I don’t think that I can face another such tale just yet, but I’ll make a note and think about it when I’m feeling stronger.

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    • I hadn’t heard of this book Alex so did some quick search. The Guardian review had this wonderful description:

      But beyond the blood, brine and slime that swills down the Ratcliffe Highway, above the stench of the rotting fruit and vegetables and the excrement of a thousand animals, lies a rather subtler story of the hazy line between camaraderie and rivalry and of the bonds both forged and broken in extreme adversity.

      Not sure it will be quite my thing though – I have an odd aversion to stories with animals ……

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  5. This is quite high up on my library list (although judging by the wait times I’m not alone!)… Hopefully it will arrive just before I have a day off, because it sounds as if it’s very much an all-in-one-go gulp of a read?

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    • Actually I think its a book that’s best taken slowly because there is a lot of reading between the lines so having some breathing space between reads let it sink in better for me.

      Karen Heenan-Davies

      ________________________________

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  6. I’ve wanted to read this for a while, not yet managed to get hold of a copy despite my ridiculous bouts of book buying.

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