Tuesday, April 17, 2012
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. -- Reagan Arthur
Unfortunately, it's been awhile since I've picked up a Reagan Arthur imprint book; and that's especially embarrassing since I am a co-host of The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge. However, there was something about THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Rogan that appealed to me. Maybe it was the timing since I read it right around the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and THE LIFEBOAT takes place not too long after that major event. Or maybe, I was just in the mood for a suspenseful novel. Whatever the case, I enjoyed THE LIFEBOAT a great deal and was pleasantly surprised by this very unusual book.
When I read THE LIFEBOAT's description, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from this novel. I figured there would be some courtroom drama and most likely some flashbacks to the castaways and their attempts to survive aboard a lifeboat. And that pretty much does sum up the story in a nutshell. What I wasn't expecting was just how disconcerting this book was to read.
I mean that in the very best way, though. THE LIFEBOAT actually creeped me out... big time. There were so many things about this story that disturbed me from the explosion of the ship (there have been a few cruise ship mishaps lately that made the story hit a little to close to home), to the behavior of the castaways, to the personality of the narrator Grace. And I think because this story was so well written that it really made me question not only man's instinct to survive but what I'd do in a similar situation.
THE LIFEBOAT is a suspenseful story about surviving against the odds, but it's definitely not a feel good book. This novel examines just how ruthless individuals can be when faced with a life or death situation. Some of the behavior on the lifeboat was despicable, and yet, it probably reflects how people would actually be when there are too little resources. I thought the group dynamics were fascinating and it was extremely interesting to see who would emerge in a leadership role (and by leadership, I don't necessarily mean in a good way!)
However, what truly made this book special was the character of Grace. The story is told through Grace's eyes and she is nothing if not an interesting narrator. If I'm being entirely honest, I didn't like her at all -- but there were many characters that I didn't love in this story. What made her so intriguing is that I found her to be one of the most unreliable narrators of any story I've ever read. At first I wondered if she were just young and traumatized by the event, but the more I read about her, the more shocked I was. I'm not sure if I'm alone with these ideas, but I thought she was selfish, manipulative, and overall just plain awful; and I began to question the veracity of her story. It was such a great "ride" to hear her tell about the events on the lifeboat!
It's been a few days since I've finished THE LIFEBOAT and I have to say that I'm still thinking about this story. For that reason alone, I think this novel would make a wonderful book club pick. I promise you that there are so many things to discuss especially the narrator Grace and her quirks (I daresay that's probably too kind of a word.) There is a reading guide available which delves into many of the same issues I thought of while reading this book. Some of the topics you might want to explore include survival instincts, ethics, morals, honesty, sacrifice, power, violence, murder, and guilt.
THE LIFEBOAT certainly packed a powerful punch and gave me much to think about. Highly recommended!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.