Review of “The Lifeboat” by Charlotte Rogan

As the story begins, we find out that Grace Winter, 22, is on trial for murder along with two other women who were among the survivors of a shipwreck and three-week ordeal aboard a lifeboat. Grace’s attorneys have asked her to write up her recollections of the experience, which comprise most of the remainder of the book.

As we read through what happened, we realize something is very, very wrong, but figuring out what really happened is difficult – a matter that will no doubt have book clubs arguing for a long time!

Grace was on the ocean liner Empress Alexandra with her new husband Henry. They were returning from Europe because of the outbreak of World War I. Following an explosion, the ship sank, and Grace and 38 others (but not Henry) were put into a lifeboat with an ostensible capacity for 40 but which actually was meant for fewer persons. One ship’s officer, Mr. Hardie, is also on board and takes charge of the group. But as days go by without rescue, and food and water become scarce, Mr. Hardie’s authority is soon challenged by two strong women, Ursula Grant and Hannah West, and the boat divides into factions. Measures taken for survival became more extreme:

“The bare bones of our natures were showing. None of us were worth a pit. We were stripped of all decency. I couldn’t see that there was anything good or noble left once food and shelter were taken away.”

Since the book begins with the trial, we know that at least these three women were eventually rescued, but we don’t know until almost the end how this happened and if anyone else survived.

Discussion: This is one seriously creepy story. Besides the unpleasantness that happens as each person’s survival becomes dependent on fewer other competitors for food and water, there is something quite unsettling about Grace. We find out a bit more about it in the Epilogue, but for the most part, we have a narrator who, as in the book Liar by Justine Larbalestier, seems to be extremely manipulative and deceptive. I couldn’t wait to find others who had read the book to talk about it!

Evaluation: This is a fascinating study in human behavior under the most challenging circumstances, told by a narrator who may be an innocent young girl, or may be a psychopath. Puzzling out who Grace really is and what actually happened will keep readers turning the pages of this clever book!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little Brown and Company a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2012

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22 Responses to Review of “The Lifeboat” by Charlotte Rogan

  1. nymeth says:

    Well, consider me intrigued. (Also, I need to read Liar. As always, I’m years behind the rest of the blogging world :P)

  2. Jill, your review leaves me curious for more. I’ve long been interested in human behavior and trying to understand what makes some people do the things they do. excellend review.

  3. bookingmama says:

    I was really surprised by this book for so many reasons. I haven’t tackled my review yet because I’m not entirely sure what I thought of the book. I know I liked it, but it was definitely strange and a little creepy.

  4. Yep, yep, gonna read it. Got great reviews in EW too. I just requested to review it on audio from Hachette. Bring it on!

  5. stacijoreads says:

    I must read this one…I love creepy and unreliable narrators intrigue me!

  6. Beth F says:

    Yeah… a lot to think about. What really happened and who is Grace?

  7. I definitely need to read this one. It sounds like something I should suggest to my book club as well!

  8. The more I see about this book, the more interesting I become in it. It’s definitely growing on me!

  9. zibilee says:

    I must read this book! From the way you have described it, it sounds totally intriguing and very sinister! I love books that keep me guessing as to the protagonists motives, and I bet that this one would fit that bill perfectly. Wonderful review today, Jill! I can’t wait to read this one!

  10. OOH that sounds interesting… I like the synopisis and the creepy factor has me curious.

  11. Very intrigued and preparing to read asap. Thanks for an enticing review, love books that leave much in the air for discussion, they continue to live on – thought provoking is the ideal read for me.

  12. Margot says:

    This actually sounds like an old-fashioned mystery, not necessarily a who-done-it. I really don’t like creepy but I’m very curious.

  13. BermudaOnion says:

    The reviews of this one have really piqued my interest. I think I’ll have to be sure Carl’s not out of town when I read it.

  14. Ti says:

    I’ve been trying to get a copy of this one. It just looks and sounds right up my alley. People can completely change when desperate.

  15. Mmmm…this one is certainly intriguing. Your review of it reminds me of Gillespie and I, where you don’t know if the narrator is innocent or not.

  16. Jenners says:

    Damnit! Why did I announce I was reading only non-fiction this April? I’ve been hearing how great this is but yours is the first non-professional review I’ve read about it and now I want to read it even more. Come May, I’m totally going to buy this one!

  17. Jenny says:

    Wow! Your review makes me want to drop everything and read this right now, LOL! I want to talk about this one… it sounds sad in a scary or creepy way but also fascinating. Is she an innocent ltitle girl or a psycho?? I want to figure it out!!

  18. You’ve made me really curious about this book. I especially like that it’s creepy.

  19. Trish says:

    Holy cow this one sounds good! I recently saw it on someone’s Pinterest board for Titanic related books, so it caught my eye then (though doesn’t seem to be related at all?) but I love a great unreliable narrator.

  20. Seriously creepy? Excellent!

  21. Jenny says:

    Ooh, fascinating! It sounds a teeny teeny bit like Life of Pi — you know? With the boat and the survival and the possibly unreliable narrator?

  22. stacybuckeye says:

    Okay, now I need to read this one!

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