Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways's Reviews > The Lifeboat

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
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Jul 22, 12

really liked it
Read in July, 2012

Rating: 3.875* of five

The Book Report: The book description says:
“Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her 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.

As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she'd found. Will she pay any price to keep it?

The Lifeboat is a page-turning novel of hard choices and survival, narrated by a woman as unforgettable and complex as the events she describes.”

My Review: This is Charlotte Rogan's first novel. I do not expect it will, excepting only her own lack of interest in pursuing a writing career, be her last. It has the voice and the control of a fourth or fifth novel, one long chewed over and considered and drafted, which then is utterly transformed by some magical alchemy of fresh insight.

Rogan's forty-person lifeboat is almost entirely filled when it hits the cold, cold North Atlantic in 1914. Hardie, a seaman of the doomed luxury liner the Empress Alexandra (named for the equally doomed Russian Czarina who was herself to founder in a few short years), has hustled himself and our narrator Grace Winter, aboard at the last possible instant, as the lifeboat was about to hit the sea. The narrator, we know from page one, is creating the story we're reading for her lawyers, those defending her from a murder charge leveled against her for, in the course of a mutiny against the morally suspect Hardie, killing him by pitching him overboard.

What is it about this story, then, with its not-new outlines, that merits the busy, overbooked reader's attention? Grace. She is an unreliable narrator, she is even aware of her unreliable perceptions, and yet she is, in this tale, weaving a myth as subtle as any out of the Greek sacred tradition.

Grace doesn't ponder or study on anything. Grace floats above the sea, whether the literal North Atlantic or the metaphorical subconscious, in a dangerously unreliable craft, loaded with people who don't seem real to her, don't seem like actual flesh and blood, don't exist in full four-dimensional spacetime for her.

Grace is in shock. Probably. Grace is manipulative and selfish. Probably. Grace is a sociopath. Quite possibly. But Grace, above all things, is a survivor. (view spoiler) So what is Grace, in the end? Victim or victor?

The cast of characters includes some stock people...the bluff and hearty military man, the iron-willed older matron, the brainless helpless girlie-girl...but also has some really interesting people, too. Grace herself, thank goodness; also the Anglican priest, a useless and vapid nithing who is there, it seems, to make Rogan's point that god will not be the help and succor of the lifeboaties, still less their savior. The able seaman, the tough decision-maker Hardie, is deliciously nasty, admirably strong, and likely as not guilty of taking the bribe Grace's husband offered him to save her (and himself, which one senses he would've done no matter what) as the lifeboat cast accuses him of. He's up against it from the beginning with the passengers, because he beats away survivors trying to get into their already over capacity boat. Everyone assumes that, like the Titanic a mere two years before, the survivors of the Empress Alexandra will be rescued within hours, therefore having a few extra people on board will be okay. Hardie, no one's fool, refuses on behalf of all of them, to play dice with god. He is proven right as the days stretch on...but the initial brutality is what stays in the passengers's minds. Thus his doom is sealed.

The setting, and the harshness of the crisis the characters face, and the inevitable results of being trapped in an unforgiving situation, all work together to make the book gripping. It's tense and it's exciting, and there is a cracking good helping of sea-specific action. And it's this point that allows Rogan the full scope of her talent. She gives Grace the gift of a poet's eye in a thriller-writer's head. There is, as there statutorily must be in sea-rescue takes, a storm. Grace thinks, as the storm approaches, that the water
was bluish-black and rolled past us like an unending herd of whales. The lifeboat alternately rose high on their broad backs and slid down into the deep depressions between them. Above, clouds hurtled through the sky before the wind.... I shivered, and for the first time since the day of the shipwreck, I felt profoundly afraid. We were doomed.


There now. If that doesn't make you want to invest five or six hours of your reading life in the book, then nothing I can say will change your mind.
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Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I have this book on hold at the library. I can't wait to read it.


message 2: by Naftoli (new) - added it

Naftoli Outstanding review, Richard, you've outdone yourself!


message 3: by s.penkevich (new) - added it

s.penkevich Grand review Richard, this one sounds really good. I forgot I'd added this to-read awhile back, I'm going to try and find it now. I like the idea you mention of her being 'an unreliable narrator, she is even aware of her unreliable perceptions, and yet she is, in this tale, weaving a myth as subtle as any out of the Greek sacred tradition.' That makes this sound epic, especially as I love a good unreliable narration. Bravo.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Jeannie wrote: "I have this book on hold at the library. I can't wait to read it."

Oh boy oh boy, I can't wait to see if you agree with me about it!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Naftoli wrote: "Outstanding review, Richard, you've outdone yourself!"

Thank you so much, Nato! I loved reading this book, so I'm glad it shows.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways s.penkevich wrote: "Grand review Richard, this one sounds really good. I forgot I'd added this to-read awhile back, I'm going to try and find it now. I like the idea you mention of her being 'an unreliable narrator, s..."

This would make a nice counterpoint to some of your more toney reads. It's a story well told and one that still comes up with some fresh and lovely imagery.

*hugs Sven* Read it!


message 7: by s.penkevich (new) - added it

s.penkevich I think I shall! I need a change in tone lately. I'm headed into Hamsun's Pan next to get a little romance into the dark corridors of death and PoMo that I've been traversing. This might have to come soon after.


message 8: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Very nice indeed, Richard! This sounds good!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Traveller wrote: "Very nice indeed, Richard! This sounds good!"

Thank you, Trav! This is a book I suspect you'd really like.


message 10: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten How would you compare this to Hitchcock's Lifeboat? Great review Sir Richard!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Jeffrey wrote: "How would you compare this to Hitchcock's Lifeboat? Great review Sir Richard!"

Thanks, Jeffrey!

Inevitably there are parallels. I saw them all over the place. Steinbeck's novella on which Lifeboat is based is wholly unknown to me in text form, so I can't comment on any similarities there. But the film is so camera-oriented and the novel is a récit, from one narrative viewpoint...I suppose comparison is inevitable, but this book is much more nuanced and more intimate than the film was.


Shovelmonkey1 Yup well done, sign me up. Still expensive on the old kindle though. But I just got paid so maybe i will.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Yup well done, sign me up. Still expensive on the old kindle though. But I just got paid so maybe i will."

Treat yourself! It's well worth the money, at least I say so...and the excitement of its sea passages!!!


Shovelmonkey1 i was expecting a seaman joke...


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways I'm not feelin' it today. I've written about four orgasms in my new book, and it's taken a toll.


message 16: by Richard (new)

Richard Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "i was expecting a seaman joke..."

Hardie har har! :)


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Richard wrote: "Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "i was expecting a seaman joke..."

Hardie har har! :)"


*readies transAtlantic harpoon*


message 18: by Richard (new)

Richard Richard wrote: "Richard wrote: "Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "i was expecting a seaman joke..."

Hardie har har! :)"

*readies transAtlantic harpoon*"


Moby-Dick went that-a-way. And, oh yes, before I forget, great review!


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Yeah, well, nice try Moby...still got your punny bunny in the crosshairs.

Thanks!


message 20: by Philippa (new)

Philippa What I want to know is .... Who decided to charge the 3 women for murder? Who, apart from the other people in the lifeboat, would know what happened to Hardie, and they were pretty bleary by the end and just glad to be alive.


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