Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Lifeboat

by Charlotte Rogan

I think you'll either love this book or hate it, not sure which!

Set in 1914, two years after the Titanic sinking this story deals with the survivors of a mysterious explosion on a trans-Atlantic ocean liner.  Grace Winter is 22 years old and newly married; when we meet her in the lifeboat she realizes she is now a widow.  Her husband has secured her a place in the lifeboat as the ocean liner sinks in the north Atlantic.  The lifeboat is severely overcrowded and if any are to survive some must perish.  The survivors spend weeks awaiting rescue and have innumerable challenges of weather, lack of food and water, and hostilities among the occupants of the lifeboat. The story of the survivors is told by Grace as she writes a journal to recount what happened in that lifeboat.  Early in the story we learn that Grace and others are on trial for murder for their actions in the lifeboat.  While a fascinating plot line this story left me cold.
Grace had schemed to become engaged to her high society husband by ensnaring him while he was engaged to another woman.  Several other unflattering episodes (impressing her mother-in-law) made her a less than sympathetic heroine for me.  While Grace narrates the actions that the survivors take in the lifeboat you are really not sure if  she is slanting events to her advantage so that she may keep the riches of her husband’s estate or was she truly overcome by the ordeal and in a zombie like state participating in the murder.  I could never decide which of these was true, but in the end I decided that it didn’t matter.  Grace had so little passion to her that I didn’t care whether she was guilty or not.   I hate books with unreliable narrators as they are so ambiguous in their treatments of issues and events; I know that “good literature” should make you think but at this stage in my life I am looking for a more entertaining read than this was.  I am also looking for more likeable heroes than provided here.   The ending of the book, where Grace ends up married to her lawyer (what was he thinking marrying this cold fish?) I think supports my vote for Grace as a schemer.  So this tale in the end leaves the reader to wonder if to be a survivor you must adopt a code of behavior that is first of all self serving.   Should a few be sacrificed to save the many?
The author does an excellent job of describing conditions in the lifeboat and vividly outlines the struggles of the survivors.  She also includes the gender politics of the early twentieth century in the action of the story.  I think this would be an excellent book club book.  I can imagine that some readers would be diametrically opposed to my interpretation of Grace’s actions; you would have some lively debate.  So I think you’ll either be lukewarm towards this book or perhaps love it!   
I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.   


Vicki said...

I didn't read the whole review because it's got spoilers, and I plan on reading it soon. I did read the last few lines to see what your thoughts were, and can't wait to find out if I'm lukewarm or love it!

BTW: I found you through Book Review Wednesday!

Anonymous said...

Hated this book. I thought it would at least become psychologically gripping but instead about 1/2 way through I found the reading just became tedious.