The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
Published by: Little, Brown & Company
Published on: April 3, 2012
Page Count: 288
Genre: General Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook ARC sent to me by Hachette Audio for consideration.
Audiobook Published by: Hachette Audio
Narrator: Rebecca Gibel
Audiobook Length: 7 hours 47 minutes
Audiobook Sample: Thank you to Hachette Audio for providing this audio sample from The Lifeboat.
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
A fire breaks out on the Empress Alexandra, an elegant ocean liner, and eventually sinks. Grace, a newly married woman, finds herself on one of the seemingly few lifeboats to escape the wreckage. Who she is, how she came to be on that lifeboat, and her role in the events that took place over the many days they were adrift at sea comes to the fore in waves of memory and accusation. When another person on the lifeboat is forcibly pushed overboard, Grace’s survival becomes about more than reaching dry land.
It wasn’t long into The Lifeboat when I became distrustful of Grace. I couldn’t believe that she was the innocent almost helpless woman she described herself to be. I spent the rest of the book trying to determine whether she believed herself to be this victim of circumstance or if she was actually rather sly in laying out her case. She was, after all, on trial for murder. Typically, I love an unreliable narrator. Reading their story engages a part of my reader’s brain that isn’t reached otherwise. The Lifeboat is an exception. while I was never bored with Grace or her story, I never became invested in her future. She never became that innocent I wanted to defend nor did she ever take on a delicious shade of evil. Because of this, the question of whether she was who she claimed to be or if she was a selfish opportunist mattered little.
What The Lifeboat did very well was make me think. Grace is on trial for an alleged murder that took place in international waters. Who has jurisdiction over such a crime? Was it the country where the boat left port? The victim’s country of origin? The perpetrator’s? I took these questions to Twitter and learned that there were trials in the United States resulting from the Titanic, so there was precedence for what happened in the book. I also wondered about the culpability of a person who has been trapped for so many days with complete strangers on a small vessel without sufficient water and food. Add to that the unmerciful sun beating down on you and lack of sleep, how responsible is anyone for what they do? How reliable are any of the witnesses? Thinking about these questions was an interesting exercise and I could see why Charlotte Rogan would be drawn to write this novel.
The lifeboat in this novel contains people from many different countries and circumstances. Rebecca Gibel did a good job giving voice to the main characters such as Mr. Hardie and Grace. For several of the lesser female characters, there was a change in tone when there wasn’t as much differentiation in accent. Most importantly, her reading gave the sensation of being on that boat along with the survivors. A good part of my enjoyment of this book came from her narration.
Many reviews and blurbs talk about how compelling this novel is, often calling it a page turner. This isn’t how I would characterize The Lifeboat, but it was still worth the read. I may not have connected with Grace as I would have hoped, but I very much enjoyed thinking about the questions it raised. If you decide to read this novel, I recommend choosing the audiobook. I think you’ll appreciate Rebecca Gibel’s narration as much as I did.