The Lifeboat


I’m always open to book recommendations and love hearing what people suggest, so when my head teacher mentioned that she was reading Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat and that she would lend it to me when she was finished I could hardly say no. I do remember reading a review on one of the blogs I follow (sadly I can’t remember which) months ago and adding this to my TBR list.

Grace Winter is in her early 20s and, having just married Henry Winter, a wealthy banker from a good family, she is on her way back to America and to face his parents with the news he has married against their will. It is on this journey home that disaster strikes; an explosion takes place on the Empress Alexandra and she sinks. At the last minute Henry is able to get Grace onto a lifeboat, with the help of a crew member called Hardie, and she is left stranded in the middle of the ocean with 40 others, crammed into a lifeboat that was not meant for so many. Those in the lifeboat are hopeful that help is just around the corner, however it is 1914 and war is about to break out in Europe, and they cannot even be sure that anyone knows of the ship’s demise. So begins a harrowing three weeks of survival.

The Lifeboat is certainly an interesting take on human survival and the lengths of desperation people can be drawn to in such circumstances. Grace’s narrative is based on reflection; she is facing a court case and is looking back on those weeks in the lifeboat in the hope of unlocking some secret to help her. We learn how she came to be in the boat and how those in the boat helped one another in their first few days at sea. However soon hope is fading, food is becoming scarce and the sea more treacherous. It is not long before talk in the lifeboat turns to sacrifice and death and people start to show their true colours.

I’m in two minds about The Lifeboat. It was certainly an interesting concept and I like the whole Lord of the Flies survival instinct that comes from being stranded and unsure of when, or if, rescue will ever come. As time went by the characters and their relationships became more fractious and it was clear not all could hope to survive. The gender struggle within the boat was particularly intriguing; 1914 was certainly a male dominated society with women beginning to earn some rights and respect. In some ways the lifeboat is a microcosm of society as a whole; to begin with it is the men making all the important decisions and ensuring all survive, but soon the women start to take over, slowly gaining rights in their own respect. Sadly the women in the lifeboat do not do an amazing job of ruling their little kingdom, so maybe I shouldn’t dwell on that thought for too long.

Whilst I enjoyed some elements of the narrative for me it just wasn’t gripping enough. I really wanted to be swept away by this book to the point that I couldn’t put it down, and yes it was a good read, but it didn’t have me longing for bedtime and reaching for it the second I got home. I would certainly recommend it, as it is an interesting narrative, but sadly just missing something for me.


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