Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: The Lifeboat

Charlotte Brogan's debut novel, The Lifeboat, is a story of man vs. wild, man vs. man, and man vs. himself. By man, I mean human. As chivalry in 1912 dictated, the majority of the passengers who secured seats in the lifeboats of the sinking ocean liner were women, including the main character, Grace Winter. She recounts the events that occurred while stranded at sea from a jail cell; she is on trial for her role in those events.

The novel centers on one lifeboat's passengers' quest for survival. As conditions deteriorate and the days pass without rescue, the passengers become more desperate. With no land, food, or fresh water in sight, leadership and loyalties are questioned, and a new conflict arises-- man vs. woman.

Grace, a newlywed whose husband didn't make it onto her lifeboat, takes a passive role in the politics of the passengers. Through much of the story, she seems to be an observer in the fascinating, gripping fight for survival. Yet through glimpses into her life before and after the sinking of the ship and through the nuances of her interactions with the other passengers, it becomes apparent that she might not be quite so passive as she first seems.

The Lifeboat is both an adventure story, as well as a psychological thriller. It examines the roles of faith, morals, and free will in circumstances where they matter the most, or perhaps the least, as the novel brings into question.

The concept of a disparate group of individuals brought together, and pitted against each other, as they fight for survival is a common one, yet Brogan's interpretation of it is incredibly fresh and entertaining. When Grace does reach land*, I found myself both relieved for her sake, as well as disappointed that the voyage of reading the book would soon be ending. Fortunately, the questions Brogan raises, yet doesn't fully answer, left me still thinking about the novel days after I'd read the last word.