The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
The Lifeboat is Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel, published by Virago Books which is currently being adapted into a film featuring Anne Hathaway.
As the ocean liner Empress Alexander is engulfed in flames, it begins to slowly descend into the water. The passengers run to the lifeboats, attempting to save their possessions, their loved ones and themselves. Thirty-nine people escape the sinking ship in lifeboat 14. One of these survivors is Grace. The novel follows her second battle for survival as days turn into weeks aboard the small lifeboat.
A hierarchy is quickly created among the passengers. 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. He knows that 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 boat.
After reading the blurb for this book, I was excited and really looking forward to a thrilling survival story full of tension, claustrophobia and action. I’m sorry to say I was disappointed.
Although the story is beautifully written and creates the atmosphere of 1914, I didn’t feel any tension at all. The writing style was so ‘matter of fact’ that I never really felt anything for the characters. I never truly 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 with no 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. They believe he’s keeping a secret from them, then jump to killing him. They assure themselves they made the right decision when he lashes out after being told about his impending death. Surely any sane person would get a tad upset about that?
I really like the overall idea this book but I had a number of issues with it. The main character occasionally said one thing and felt another. She came across as 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. The murder of one of the main characters seemed over the top and pointless For me, these issues left the story feeling very unrealistic.
If you like The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan you’ll love The Life of Pi by Yann Martel.