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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Book Review: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The Lifeboat tells the story of a group of survivors of a shipwreck in the Atlantic who find themselves on a lifeboat awaiting rescue. The protagonist, Grace, is amongst them, having only been married a few weeks and knowing that her new husband is probably dead. There is a greater problem than loss facing the survivors though: the lifeboat is dangerously overcapacity and it becomes clear that some will have to be sacrificed if any are to survive.

I loved the premise of this book and, thankfully, enjoyed the book itself just as much. Grace is an unreliable narrator in the best tradition and throughout the novel you're never quite sure if her word's to be trusted. Muddying the waters are the flashbacks to her life before the shipwreck and how she met her husband. And since the bulk of the novel is a transcript from her official statement who knows what the truth is?

I suppose my only real difficulty with this were the number of survivors initially in the lifeboat. It made them tricky to keep track of and I did have to flick back frequently to remind myself who was who. This obviously became less of a problem as the novel went on and, in all fairness, the predicament of the lifeboat required the number of survivors on board to be there. However, as far as problems go, this was a slight one. In all other respects it was an exquisite novel. It works on the basic level of human survival but there are many levels to survival and many degrees of complicity in the battle for survival.

I can't say too much without spoiling key elements of the plot. All I'll say is that in the prologue it's revealed that Grace and two other women are standing trial for their lives and then I'll recommend - again - reading the book. An evocative period novel which feels more immediate because of the overarching questions about humanity.

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