Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

This one opens on the steps of a courthouse, and the reader immediately must shift the expectation away from a lifeboat drifting with survivors, to a landlocked scene.  Here we meet 22 year old Grace Winter who appears to be on trial for her life. We soon discover that Grace is also a widow, a survivor, and a strong woman who gives us the story of how she and her fellow survivors endured  life on the high seas.

Grace and her husband Henry were sailing from England to America to escape the impending war.  At the same time Grace was sailing toward a mother-in-law who was not going to approve of Henry's wife.  When the ocean liner exploded, those who survived found themselves in severely overcrowded lifeboats adrift in the Atlantic Ocean with no compass and no idea where they were. In Grace's case, her husband was missing, and the boat she was pushed into was "captained" by John Hardie, the only member of the crew on the boat.  Under his austere leadership, they managed to survive on limited rations of food and water, thinking that distress signals had been sent before the ship sank, and that they would be soon rescued.

When the weather turned ugly, and the ocean became much more turbulent, it was obvious that the boat would sink unless the load was lightened. So began a battle amongst the castaways among themselves, and with themselves.  Through the pages of Grace's diary which her defense lawyer and psychologist have asked her to write, we see the intense inner struggle she and many others go through.  We are introduced to many of the participants in the drama, and develop favorites.  The horror of the dilemma facing each passenger is presented starkly, and with gripping finality.

In addition to relating the horrors of the lifeboat, Grace interweaves her personal story, causing the reader to ponder how much this background influences her decisions on the fateful journey.  This novel is hypnotic and gut-wrenching.  The story is a classic one, often used in ethics and morality classrooms to force people to examine moral choices and accept the inevitable.  How Grace survives the ordeal, only to face a trial for murder is an underlying theme throughout.  By opening at the end, Rogan lets us know that at least some passengers survived.  It is the telling of the voyage and the rescue along the way that make it impossible to put this one down.

I predict that this one is going to be one of the all-time top picks for book club discussions in the coming year.  It is especially powerful as an audio book, and the narrator Rebecca Gibble gives an outstanding performance, mastering many accents and dialects to paint us vivid audio pictures.

Author:  Charlotte Rogan
Publisher-Format: Hachette Audio 2012, 7 hrs 47 min, 288 pg equivalent
Narrator: Rebecca Gibble
Subject: survival, abandonment, morality
Setting: a lifeboat adrift in the Atlantic, 1914
Genre: historical fiction


  1. I did it again! I stopped by and now I have to add another book to my growing must read list!

  2. I have read mixed reviews on this one...perhaps I need to try the audio!


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