Book Review: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

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If you’re looking for a love story full of self-sacrifice like Titanic, you won’t find it in The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. What you will find though, is a dark story of human survival, mutiny and moral dilemmas beyond our normal perception.

In the beginning of The Lifeboat we meet Grace. Grace is on trial for something that happened during her 3 weeks in a lifeboat after the sinking of the ship she and her new husband, Henry, were aboard. Grace has just secretly married Henry to advance her status after some family drama. Grace is complicated and aloof, void of any real emotion during the telling of her story.

At first, we don’t know why Grace is on trial. But, this becomes evident as the story unfolds. Grace tells her story through a journal, which her attorneys ask her to create in order to better understand her ordeal at sea and the events that led up to the incident that has landed Grace in her current precarious situation.

There are 39 passengers aboard the lifeboat on day 1 and many will not survive the three-week ordeal. Their humanity, survival instincts and moral judgement are tested in the extreme conditions of sun exposure, little water, no food and growing panic.

Most of the 39 people on the lifeboat do not know each other on a personal level. They have one crew member who knows anything at all about surviving at sea. They look to him to make decisions for them and, as days go by, they start to wonder if he has their best interests at heart. Most of the passengers in the lifeboat are women. This creates a women versus men scenario on a few different levels. Keep in mind that the year is 1914 and women are oppressed and not yet able to vote. This is also relevant in Grace’s trial where the jury is made up of all men.

I really enjoyed this book! It was very well written and the way the author set up the scenario of Grace’s incarceration and trial to lead us into the story of the lifeboat was brilliant. Don’t expect wishy-washy love or sacrifice in this one. It’s about survival and the lengths a person is willing to go to in order to live. It will have you asking yourself what you would do in Grace’s situation. Could you judge someone on actions they took at a time of duress and hopelessness, the likes of which you can’t even fathom?

One of my favorite interactions in the book takes place between some of the women in the boat and Mr. Hardie, the lone crew member. The women are asking why God has let this happen to them and Mr. Hardie responds “Ye’re born, ye suffer and ye die. What made ye think ye deserved any different?”

Excellent story! I highly recommend it!

View this book on Goodreads.
View this book on Amazon.
Read and listen to an NPR interview with the author.

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