Jenny's Reviews > The Lifeboat

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
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's review
Sep 27, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012-challenge
Read from September 23 to 26, 2012

** spoiler alert ** Started out reminding me of The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott, but turned into a completely different kind of book, despite the similar situation (a group of people on a lifeboat after their ship sank, waiting for rescue).

The plot can be summed up briefly: Two years after the Titanic's sinking, on the cusp of WWI, there is an explosion on an ocean liner called the Empress Alexandra, and it sinks. A just-married young woman named Grace is thrust aboard one of the last lifeboats by her new husband, Henry, after he confers with one of the sailors, Mr. Hardie. Grace spends the next three weeks on the lifeboat with the other survivors, growing weaker and weaker, as they struggle to survive and hope for rescue. Rescue does come, though not before several people sacrifice themselves (or are sacrificed) to the sea. Post-rescue, Grace and two other survivors, Mrs. Grant and Hannah, are put on trial for the murder of Mr. Hardie.

There are a variety of people in the lifeboat, all from different backgrounds, with different worldviews and moral codes. Many have secrets that raise questions about the events during the ship's sinking: was the radio working, did distress calls in fact go out? Where was Hardie before he appeared near the lifeboat? What is his relationship to Blake, the sailor on the other lifeboat in sight, and why won't Hardie approach the other boat? Did Henry strike some sort of deal with Hardie? Is Henry still alive? Most of these questions are not answered, yet it doesn't feel like the book has loose ends.


...I wondered, not for the first time, if some of life's tragedy arose when people put themselves in situations they were not by nature suited for. (24)

The plaque perplexed all of us, but it perplexed Colonel Marsh most of all, for he was a man or order who expected not only a certain regimentation to the universe, but also a gentleman's agreement about meaning among users of the English language. (24)

...the bounds of a person's thinking quickly expand in such a situation... (30)

I thought of [the ship, the Empress Alexandra] as I have often thought of God - responsible for everything, but out of sight and maybe annihilated, splintered on the rocks of his own creation. (31)

...which goes to show that admirable traits are often exactly the same as negative ones, only expressed in a different way. (66)

"...We are faced with the here and now of our situation and that the irreversible and unknowable events that brought us to this time and place not only cease to be important, they cease to matter at all." (Mr. Sinclair, 89)

Am I to be blamed for this? We do not ask certain ideas to enter our heads and demand that others stay away. I believe a person is accountable for his actions but not for the contents of his mind..." (139)

The thing that preoccupied me that night was the notion that a person's choices are only rarely between right and wrong or between good and evil. I saw very clearly that people were mostly faced with much murkier options and that there were no clear signposts marking the better path to take. (150)

"What do ye know know about doing without, ye who have always had everything? Poverty is a shipwreck! It's very easy to live moral lives when all of yer baser needs are attended to." (Hardie, 178)

Still, it is never a good idea to form any hard and fast opinions at nighttime...and by the next morning much of my old equanimity had returned. (215)

"If you take for granted that some or all shall die if no action is taken, should an action be taken to save some?" (Mr. Reichmann, 219)

...I was again choosing without really knowing the consequences of my choice... (229)

"What is this, a witch trial? Is the only way we can prove our innocence by drowning?" I replied that perhaps there was a more profound point to be made about innocence, that perhaps a person could not be both alive and innocent... (Hannah and Grace, 237)

"I do not think that the only way to show courage is to face the world alone." (264)

But hope had always seemed to me like a weak emotion, a kind of pleading passivity or entrenched denial...I determined not to become a victim of it. (267)

It was not the sea that was cruel, but the people. (271)

One couldn't inhabit the knife-edge cusp of possibility for long without stepping off on one side or the other... (272)

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09/25/2012 page 120

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