Monday, August 6, 2012

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

     In 1914, Grace Winter is happier than she ever dreamed.  She has just married Henry, the love of her life, and the two are honeymooning on an Atlantic cruise.  But halfway through the voyage, something goes terribly wrong, and the ship mysteriously catches fire.  With the massive ocean liner sinking quickly, Grace and Henry are separated in the mass panic and confusion, and Grace finds herself on a lifeboat with 38 other confused and terrified passengers.  But one of the survivors, John Hardie, has a great deal of experience as a seaman and quickly emerges as the leader of the pack.

     At first, Hardie and the other passengers are optimistic about their chances of rescue and survival, but as the hours stretch to days and then weeks, their prospects turn grim.  With little food, fresh water, or shelter, the lifeboat's passengers slowly slip into a frantic mental state.  Running solely on survival instincts, Grace, Hardie, and some of the other passengers face the horrifying conclusion that only the strong and courageous will survive, and others must be sacrificed.  And when the ordeal is over at last, Grace and 2 other survivors are charged with murder and must relay their harrowing story to a jury that cannot possibly begin to comprehend the extremity of their circumstances.

     Charlotte Rogan's The Lifeboat is a a chilling journey into the depths of human instinct, will power, and self-preservation.  But the novel doesn't just explore aspects of choice and consequences - it asks readers to reconsider their own moral compass in a situation where basic needs and survival instincts surpass morality, rationality, and human compassion.  And in between these sinister notions, Rogan also considers women's rights, social status, memory, and the legal dilemmas of such a scenario.  The Lifeboat is a fast-paced, engrossing, and thought-provoking debut, but I wouldn't recommend it for beach reading.

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