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Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Rogan

Title: The Lifeboat
Author: Charlotte Rogan
Pub info: Regan Arthur Books, 2012; 278 pp
Genre: adult period fiction / adventure/survival (fine for ages 12+)

Book #5 on the TBR list--done! I'm plowing through this shelf, blogfrogs. Reading The Lifeboat, I had to ask myself: How would I manage to survive in an overcrowded lifeboat on the open sea?

Goodreads summary:
Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she'd found. Will she pay any price to keep it?

The Lifeboat is a page-turning novel of hard choices and survival, narrated by a woman as unforgettable and complex as the events she describes.

Status: finished 2/27/14

My impressions:
This book has gotten a lot of press since its publication--enthusiastic reviews, a nod from Hollywood, a spot on quite a few "Best of 2012" lists--and that can be worrisome, in a way. I'd almost rather know nothing about a book rather than get my hopes up too high. A novel should be an intimate conversation between reader and writer. Not a parade.

Were my hopes hyped too high? Maybe a little, but Charlotte Rogan's debut novel is unquestionably good--suspenseful, certainly, and an interesting study of character and how it changes and adapts to extreme circumstances. The struggle for power and control in the boat between a salty crew member (who's the only person aboard who knows anything about sailing) and a domineering mother figure is the book at its most interesting. It's the sort of story you can't help putting yourself in: Would  you sacrifice the weakest to save the rest of the passengers? Could you volunteer to drown? Would you give up and drink seawater until you died?

I know, I know--but these are the questions that kept burning as I read the book. Rogan sets the scene so well in 1914 that I as the reader could feel the strictures of that society and time period, and how those strictures begin to break down as day after day passes in the lifeboat. The writing is tight and riveting and kept me turning pages.

I was less interested in Grace's trial, at least as it was depicted. I wanted to see more of the courtroom and less of the life in the cell. And while a good deal of the novel takes place in Grace's head, in some ways, I wasn't convinced I knew why she did what she did aboard the lifeboat. What, exactly, compelled her to act in a way that seemed so counter to her own principles? The author does try to explain, but I needed a bit more there. I'd have liked to get to know a few more of the passengers, too.

But these are small issues. The novel makes for compulsive reading and is a stunner, especially for a first-time novelist. I highly recommend it.

About Charlotte Rogan:
Charlotte Rogan graduated from Princeton University in 1975. She worked at various jobs, mostly in the fields of architecture and engineering, before teaching herself to write and staying home to bring up triplets. Her childhood experiences among a family of sailors and the discovery of an old criminal-law text provided inspiration for The Lifeboat, her first novel. She and her husband live in Connecticut.

Learn more about Charlotte and The Lifeboat at the author's website, here. Follow Charlotte on Twitter here, and on Facebook here. And check it out: Actress Anne Hathaway and Working Title are teaming up to adapt the book for the big screen!

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win!  Next giveaway: April 7.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

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