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Monday, June 4, 2012

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, 2012, * * *

Grace Winter, the anti-heroine of the novel is nothing if not a survivor.  Twenty-two years old and clearly very attractive, she narrates the book a good dose of unreliability. When the ocean liner transporting Grace and her very rich new husband to the United States on the eve of WWI,  suffers a catastrophic explosion, she wedges her self into Lifeboat 14, along with 38 others. There she staves off the mounting hysteria around her and aligns herself with John Hardie, an experienced sailor who takes control of the food and water and make instantaneous, God-like decisions.  As the boat is seriously over crowded, for any to survive, a few must volunteer to go over the side, and you can bet that Grace won't be one of them. Framed by scenes of Grace after the ordeal - she has been charged, along with two other survivors, or murder of one of their companions - the bulk of the novel traps you in the disintegrating world of the lifeboat, buffeted by squalls and by a brewing power struggle. While I had hoped for a more intense story about the dynamics of people unknown to each other being placed in peril on a lifeboat, this turned out to be a strangely dispassionate narrative from only one person's perspective.  Grace is a seriously flawed person, and that usually offers a literary opportunity for growth.  However, Grace's flaws were with her before the lifeboat, remained with her throughout the time on the sea, and her trial, and she came out the other side essentially unchanged.  There are many loose ends left unresolved, showing them to be no more than red herrings and filler -- and the book ends with a shrug. 

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