The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: Review
The Lifeboat is Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel, published by Virago Books and which is currently being adapted into a feature film featuring Anne Hathaway.
As the ocean liner, Empress Alexander is engulfed in flames and slowly descends into the water, the passengers run to the lifeboats, attempting to save their possessions, their loved ones and themselves. Thirty-nine people escaped the sinking ship in lifeboat 14. One of these survivors is Grace. The novel follows her second battle for survival as days turns into weeks aboard the small lifeboat.
A hierarchy is quickly created among the passengers and Grace watches in awe and relief as John Hardie, the only sailor to the aboard the lifeboat, instantly takes charge. He directs the lifeboat away from the sinking ship and even bats away other survivors, knowing too many people in the lifeboat would mean death for them all. Even the wails and screams of a small child are ignored. This calculated move is the first in a series of events that leaves Grace wondering if she really is safe in the lifeboat.
After reading the blurb for this book, I was really looking forward to it and thought I was in for a thrilling survival story full of tension, claustrophobia and action. I’m sorry to say I was a bit disappointed.
Although the story is beautifully written and the style assists in creating the atmosphere of 1914 (when the story is set) I just didn’t feel any tension in the writing at all. The writing style was so ‘matter of fact’ that I never really felt anything for the characters or ever felt they were in any danger. The castaways were stuck at sea, unsure of if they are going to be rescued but on day four they are still singing songs and there is no real mention of stress. I found this rather unbelievable. Only on day eight does it first mention the main character as giving up hope. Although it touches on rationing and results of weather exposure, they seem almost glossed over as if they aren’t really that relevant.
The big turning point in this book is also one I struggled with. The boat decides to throw a man overboard after they decide he cannot be trusted. This seems strange as he has saved all their lives and is of no threat to them, he just seems to be keeping a secret from them. They then assure themselves they made the right decision when he lashes out after being told that they may throw him to his death. Surely any sane person would get a tad upset about that?
I really like the idea of this book but the main character occasionally said one thing and felt another and came across two-faced, leaving you confused as to whether you were meant to like her or not. The obstacles you would instantly think of when surviving at sea felt brushed over and the murder of one of the main characters seemed over the top and pointless For me, those two things left the story feeling very unrealistic.
If you like The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan you’ll love The Life of Pi by Yann Martel.