CBR5 Review #22: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Why I Read It: I have a bit of a fascination with shipwreck stories, starting with my full-blown obsession with the Titanic at age 8 or 9 (when I read virtually every book, fictionalized or not, having to do with it). So, just the fact that this book is about the aftermath of a sunken ship was enough to sell me.

My Rating: 4 stars

Summary: In 1914, Grace Winter, a young newlywed, is on trial for murder after being lost at sea. The story is told in the form of a diary written to exonerate herself, and we slowly learn the backstory of how she came to be accused.  When their ship sinks in a horrific accident halfway through their voyage from England to the United States, Grace (separated from her husband) finds herself in a small lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with thirty-eight other passengers–and must struggle to survive.

My Review: This was a pretty good read, and is the perfect summer/beach book. It’s quick and very engaging, and is definitely a page-turner. Once you start reading you really just need to find out what happens, so it was hard for me to put down and I ended up finishing it in just a few hours.

I think Rogan used the diary/flashback device fairly well–when authors do that, they run the risk of losing the suspense of the plot, because the reader knows what to expect–but the reasons for Grace’s trial are so vague at first that this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story at all. Rogan also did a very good job of creating a story independent of the inevitable Titanic comparisons, and while there are clear similarities and connections, this is very different. So much of the horror of the Titanic was based on the ship actually sinking, whereas in this book that’s glossed over a bit and the focus is very much on life in the lifeboat. Rogan captures the fear and intense struggle for survival incredibly well, and it was definitely a bit hard to read at points because it was so vividly described.

The character of Grace was my biggest issue with the book–she’s a very unreliable narrator, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, and in this case I think it sort of alienates her from the reader. Even though it’s a first-person narrative I never felt connected to her or particularly sympathetic towards her, and at times actively disliked her. I was also very much aware of how skewed her perspective might be, although I think Rogan did that on purpose and definitely plays up an angle of uncertainty when it comes to Grace’s innocence/the motivations behind her actions/what she claims to be the truth. She’s an interesting character, but as with most unreliable narrators, she’s very frustrating and makes it difficult to know what’s real and what’s not.

Should You Read It? Overall, I liked this book a lot. It didn’t have a huge lasting impact but it’s an engaging read and, again, good for those times when you don’t want to think too hard about what you’re reading.



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