Emily Crowe's Reviews > The Lifeboat

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
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Mar 12, 2012

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Read from March 12 to 15, 2012

The Lifeboat is, unsurprisingly, the story of a shipwreck and one particular lifeboat full of survivors. Grace Winter, a young woman recently married, narrates this pre-WWI novel from a first-person point of view in the form of a diary, bookended with first person recollections of what happened after her lifeboat's rescue.

This book started out at a fast & furious pace, with its creepiness and its exploration of survival ethics earning it a solid 4-star rating. There are all kinds of obstacles from the very beginning, the biggest of which is that the lifeboat bears more people than it can safely hold; not only can it not take on more people who are floundering in the water, the boat must collectively decide who will be cast away from it so the rest of them can survive. But what does that make them--murderers or survivors? One man, a seamen named Hardie, seems to be in charge, but in time there are mutinous mutterings and rumors start circulating from passenger to passenger that he can't be trusted, that he's a thief, that he destroyed the radio and thus prevented the ship from sending distress signals, that he caused the shipwreck to begin with, and so on. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of hardship and hysteria, with various men and women making and breaking alliances as the opportunities arise.

The "diary" portion of this shipwreck novel comes to an end about 3/4 of the way in and a murder trial gets underway (this is not a spoiler--you know from the prologue that the murder trial is happening), and things slow way the heck down. Lost momentum + unreliable narrator = lost interest, and thus results in an overall 3-star rating.

The subject, survivors in a lifeboat, put me very much in mind of the biography Unbroken (which I'm reading now) and the novel Life of Pi (the human variation, not the animal one). Human nature can certainly be appalling, and the author does a good job of showing us moments when we're incapable of controlling our most damnable impulses. Too bad the early potential wasn't carried forward for the remainder of the book.
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