Review: “The Lifeboat” by Charlotte Rogan

Author: Charlotte Rogan
Publication Date: April 3rd 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Amazon, Goodreads


In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying Grace Winter and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

Adrift on the Atlantic, the weather deteriorating and supplies dwindling, the caraways scheme and battle, caught up in a vicious power struggle between ruthless but experienced sailor and an enigmatic matron with surprising powers of persuasion.

Choosing a side will seal her fate, but Grace has made her way in the world by seizing every possible advantage. As she recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met and considers the new life of privilege she thought she’d found, Grace must now decide: Will she pay any price to keep it?

The Lifeboat is a masterful debut, a story of hard choices, ambition, and entertainment narrated by a woman as complex and unforgettable as the events she describes.

From Goodreads


TLDR; A survival-mystery set in the early 1900s that casts readers into rough seas alongside 39 other former passengers struggling to survive.

This book was a nice change of pace from the fantasy and thriller I’ve been alternating between. As readers partaking in this survival-mystery blend we’re tossed into the rough seas of survival in the face of tragedy and adversity.

The prologue opens with the aftermath of the lifeboat incident. Young widowed Grace, our main character, is discussing her case with her lawyers. What really happened those days alone in the vast ocean, and can she be reasonably convicted for events that occurred? We can surmise the larger boat sank for some reason but are unsure why and for what reason a survivor of the wreck could be on trial. Immediately attention-grabbing, we’re beset with a host of questions and eagerly move forward to the main event.

Flash back and we’re in the lifeboat. This is of course where most of the story takes place as the unfortunate group grapple with their situation and are forced to make a host of morally gray decisions. To start, the small vessel is overloaded. Although the plaque says it holds 40 persons and there are 39 in the boat, it’s inaccurate and the sides sink low towards the water. This makes the situation especially precarious during rough storms. Then there’s the fact that Grace’s new husband Henry was able to add her and Mr. Hardie to the boat after it had already started lowering. Is she to blame for why it’s overloaded or why certain others didn’t make it? And what price was paid to ensure her safety?

Distress amongst the survivors reaches a crescendo as factions form in the boat. Mr. Hardie, a knowledgeable seaman who previously commanded respect and admiration, is undermined by Mrs. Grant who casts him as a dishonest and dangerous man. Hysteria and sickness set in to claim some, while some others are lost to the sea for other reasons. Amidst all this the survivors reach deep into themselves clinging to their reasons to live.

And that doesn’t even cover the half of it all.

This book was a well-crafted introspection on human nature. It reminded me a bit of Life of Pi in terms of the lifeboat, survival, and mental components, although this boat was more crowded. I didn’t agree with some of the decisions made by those in the boat, but it’s clear not everything could be rational in such a situation. In addition although the story takes place in 1914 I will say there was a bit of unpleasant undercurrent of woman’s dependency on man throughout. I understand at that time this would be the prevailing status, but Grace in particular as a main character could possibly have done better here. In particular I’m thinking of the story’s end. If you have read or pick up this book, let me know what your thoughts are on this, I’m a bit torn..

Overall this was a pretty fast read (just at 274 pages) that was refreshing and interesting. I’d recommend it to those who enjoyed Life of Pi, as well as those who enjoy mystery or sea-based survival stories.


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