Monday, December 24, 2012

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

I found The Lifeboat while browsing Barnes & Noble's ebook selection on my Nook -- I probably found it in the Top 100 category.  It's a historical novel set a couple of years after the sinking of the Titanic -- the heroine has survived a luxury liner sinking and three weeks in a lifeboat until they were picked up, and is now on trial for murder.  The very beginning of the book drops you into the middle of the murder trial, leaving you wondering what could have happened at sea that was so terrible she would be charged with murder because of it.

From there, Grace's journal -- which she has written on her lawyers' request to recount the events in the lifeboat -- takes you back to the day of the explosion that sank the ship, and how Grace found herself as one of 39 survivors in a lifeboat.  From the very beginning -- when it becomes evident that the lifeboat, despite its placard claiming a capacity of 40, isn't big enough to hold them all -- you know that some of the survivors will have to die in order for the rest to survive.

When I started this book, I was expecting Hollywood-style drama and suffering, but the story itself is quieter and grimmer.  The narration is a beautifully done character portrait, in that you find yourself wondering at times whether Grace is telling the truth -- and what she might be lying about.  It's also written in a somewhat old-fashioned style that (between the language and the woman accused) reminded me a bit of The Scarlet Letter, if that book had been written in Hester's voice instead of in third-person.  In some of the reviews on Barnes & Noble's website, readers claimed they devoured the book in only a night or two -- and it is a little on the short side, but I thought it was better read over a few days, since I found that I wanted to read more slowly in order to properly absorb the language and the details.

Although I liked the book, in the end I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  I think I suspected and wanted to find out that Grace was concealing some crucial detail, and the fact that the author never addressed what that might be was disappointed.  I still wonder if I missed something important!  Even so, I would certainly recommend this book, which is an interesting exploration of whether it is moral to sacrifice a few so that the rest can survive.

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