Rummanah Aasi
   Usually when we hear about shipwrecks, our attentions are always focused on the hows and whys of the accident. Rarely do we take a look at what the survivors on a boat went through. Charlotte Rogan's Lifeboat presents us a captivating, ambiguously ethical story of survival and human nature.

Description: 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 Grace 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 has exceeded 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?

Review: Lifeboat is an engrossing and complex psychological and moral drama. Set at the beginning of World War I, Grace Winter is a newlywed and widow, newly minted heiress who survives a harrowing three weeks at sea following the sinking of her ocean liner (a la the Titanic) and the disappearance of her husband, Henry. Safe at home in the U.S., Grace and two other survivors are put on trial for their actions aboard the under-built, overloaded lifeboat. Were their actions out of self defense or calculated and intentional?
   Grace, guided by her lawyer Mr. Reichmann, who has had her write down her day-by-day account of events, pleads not guilty. The story is thus divided into the present trial and Grace's murky memory. I really liked how Rogan leaves it up to the reader to decide how reliable a narrator Grace may be. Grace is a multi-layered and complex heroine. Though we feel horrible that she had to survive such a drastic ordeal and wouldn't want to be in her shoes, her actions are not faultless. She is actually pretty calculating.  Newly impoverished after her father's financial ruin and subsequent suicide, New Yorker Grace set her sites on the wealthy young financier Henry Winter even though he's already engaged. Grace and Henry sailed together, pretending to be married, to London, where he had business and they legally wed before boarding Empress Alexandra (a nice foreshadowing of the soon-to-be-assassinated Tsarina) to return home. When an unexplained explosion rocks the ship, Henry gallantly places her, perhaps with a bribe, into a lifeboat already packed to over-capacity. She never sees him again. 
  Things get interesting when we re-live Grace's memories of the lifeboat. An Empress crew member, Mr. Hardie, quickly takes charge of the passengers, distributing the limited rations and organizing work assignments with godlike authority. Declaring who is worthy to climb aboard the boat or to kill those who are desperately clinging to the boat in hopes of survival even women and children. This portion of the story gave me goosebumps and made me wonder if fight or flight instincts would kick in. As hope for quick salvation dims, passengers fall into numb lethargy. Some go mad. There are natural deaths and drownings (voluntarily or was it murder?). 
  It is really interesting that the author doesn't judge Grace, leaving it up to the readers to form their own opinion and to wonder what it really means to be human when faced with an impossible situation. If you're own life is on the line would you honestly save someone else?

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing images. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Cove by Ron Rash, A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
11 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Wow. This sounds absolutely fascinating Rummanah! I'm never not intrigued by a premise like this, where we get to see human nature at it's best and worst and then ask ourselves honest questions about how we think we would be in a situation like the one detailed for us on the pages. I love too that we as readers have to wonder as to Grace's reliability as a narrator, that always keeps me on my toes:) Gorgeous review my friend!


  2. This sounds like a hard read about what we can do as humans. I already don't like Grace for her pursuing Henry when he was engaged. But I have a feeling this is so fascinating that I wouldn't be able to put it down until I finished it. Is it open ended in that no decision of guilt or innocence is made at the trial? Is that what you mean by letting the reader decide? I'm not a fan of that. I haven't even heard of this one but you make it sound like something I'd really find fascinating. Great review!


  3. @Heather: Yes, there is a decision made at the end of the trial but you're left to wonder if it is the right decision.


  4. This novel raises such interesting questions! I really love that the author doesn't cast judgement on her character and leaves it up to the reader to decide how guilty she is. I really like the premise of this one, Rummanah, and will be adding it to my wishlist. Thanks for the recommendation!


  5. I really dislike it when books jump back and forth in time, but I am curious about the choices Grace made in such an impossible situation. It seems to be a book that really makes you think. I love trying to imagine myself in such extreme situations.
    Great review!


  6. Gosh, I still have a copy of this book that needs to be read. It sounds very thought provoking! I am glad you enjoyed it overall!


  7. I do like thrillers and this definitely sounds like one. Plus, it is interesting that the whole thing takes place in such a small place. Oh you have me curious. I do like those psychological edge of your seat kind of books.


  8. That does sound interesting. And I like that it's not a famous boat. When you think 1914, I think Titanic (even though it's 1912) or Lusitania (sp?). Nice that it focuses on the story instead of the boat.


  9. danya Says:

    I thought this one sounded neat when I read the synopsis a while back (around the time it released). Glad to hear it lives up to the description! Interesting that there's an unreliable narrator effect at play – those can bug me but if handled well then they can work for me :)


  10. Candace Says:

    Oh this one certainly sounds intriguing. I like that it's from a different scenerio and not of the sinking itself, or prior to and focuses on the after or with them on the lifeboat anyway. I think it might be rather tough to read, but fascinating.


  11. DMS Says:

    I haven't read The Lifeboat- but boy does it sound unique and fascinating. I am curious to read Grace's story. Loved your review. Thanks for sharing. :)
    ~Jess


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