The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
Hardcover, 278 pages
Hardcover, 278 pages
SynopsisThe Lifeboat begins with our narrator, Grace, headed into court, on trial for committing a crime aboard a lifeboat after her ocean liner sinks on the way to America after the outbreak of WWI. With 39 people in a lifeboat designed for 32, only the most determined - and perhaps the most morally flexible, which may or not include Grace - will survive 20 days at sea.
Reason for ReadingI saw this one on a few 'buzz books' type of lists last year and finally had a chance to pick it up.
Why you should read this bookRogan slyly plays with Grace as an unreliable narrator, leaving the reader wondering how much of this tale is lost to the delusions of starving victims of a shipwreck and how much is the convenience of a woman who doesn't want to admit to her own depravity. The two biggest personalities on board, a sailor and a stoic woman who believes the sailor doesn't have their best interests at heart, wind up separating the lifeboat into two camps who slowly turn against each other as desperation and even madness sets in with some. Grace herself almost flies under the radar, coolly checking her emotions as she watches everything unfold, either indecisive or calculating depending on the readers' interpretations. Gossip flies, including whispers of a mysterious chest that seemed to have considerable value. Alliances are formed and the will to survive melds a fast-paced story with Rogan's beautiful and terrifying descriptions of the sea. Pondering characters' motivations has never been so fun or so fast-paced - you'll fly through this clever read.
Why you should avoid this bookAt a glace, this might seem to be a straightforward adventure tale, but the narrator's juggling of half-truths might not leave the ending in the neat package you'd expect.
Opening ParagraphToday I shocked the lawyers, and it surprised me, the effect I could have on them. A thunderstorm arose as we were leaving the court for lunch. They dashed for cover under the awning of a nearby shop to save their suits from getting wet while I stood in the street and opened my mouth to it, transported back and seeing again that other rain as it came at us in gray sheets. I had lived through that downpour, but the moment in the street was my first notion that I could live it again, that I could be immersed in it, that it could again be the tenth day in the lifeboat, when it began to rain.
'They raised the boat for you and Grace - that's the only reason! I saw it with my own eyes!'
'There, there,' I said, for I remembered nothing about getting into the boat except how I had seen smoke billowing from the bridge and how, amid the terror and confusion, I had clutched Henry's hand and followed him blindly, putting one foot in front of the other and doing what I was told until I was swept off my feet and deposited in the boat. I could think of nothing else but to murmur meaningless phrases and pull Mrs. Fleming in against my chest, but she persisted: 'Is it or is it not your fault that this boat is overcrowded? Is it or is it not your fault that my little Emmy is dead?'
I blocked my ears to the sound of him and clung harder than ever to Mary Ann. The bare bones of our natures were showing. None of us were worth a spit. We were stripped of all decency. I couldn't see that there was anything good or noble left once food and shelter were taken away.