four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
user_rating: 
0

756769.pngThe Lifeboat is baby boomer Charlotte Rogan's debut novel. Its inspiration came from true stories she read about 19th-century sailors surviving shipwrecks.

The Story: In 1914, Grace Winter, 22, evacuates a doomed luxury liner returning from London to New York. Minutes ago she was a newlywed; now she is a widow. Adrift in an overcrowded and possibly sinking lifeboat, she and 38 others suffer rough storms and hunger‚ and the knowledge that they won't survive unless they lighten the boat's load. One of the last deeds her wealthy husband did for her was to secure her place‚ by less than ethical means‚ on the rescue boat. The passengers's dire circumstances continually test their morality and humanity. Some "exit" the lifeboat after succumbing to sickness; other depart at the hands of fellow travelers. Grace, a manipulative and shrewd survivor, narrates the tale after the ill-fated trek's end‚ while on trial for murder at sea.
Reagan Arthur Books. 288 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780316185905

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"It's an unflinching yet impressively nuanced examination of the will to survive, and its absence; of charisma and weakness, and moral choices in extremis. [The Lifeboat] is also vividly exciting, beautifully paced and surprisingly funny; in Grace, Rogan has found a voice that is both fresh and mysterious." Justine Jordan

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The plot seems basic: Some people clamber aboard a lifeboat as a ship sinks, and we think we'sre all set for a tale in which someone inevitably will be eaten for dinner. But Rogan delivers something entirely different (rest easy, no one gets eaten) by using a familiar setting to explore moral ambiguity, human nature and the psychology of manipulation." Scott Martelle

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The lifeboat becomes a microcosm of what human beings are capable of, for good and ill. Charlotte Rogan delivers a subtle and very persuasive analysis of the circumstances in which decent people can devolve into primal creatures." Brigitte Frase

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Charlotte Rogan manages to distill this drama about what's right and wrong when the answer means life or death into a gripping, confident first novel. Other novels have examined the conscience and guilt of a survivor among the dead, but few tales are as thoughtful and compelling as this." Christina Ianzito

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"After all, what would any of us do, or not do, if our lives depended on acting in our own best interests? The Lifeboat raises these forever fascinating questions without moral posturing or sentimentality." Jocelyn McClurg

Critical Summary

In Charlotte Rogan's novel about a dark, but often humorous, misadventure at sea, she creates a microcosm of life and all its travails. She astutely illustrates the smallness and brutality of people on the brink and the decisions they are capable of making. While Rogan paints Grace's cunning character expertly and unsparingly, she manages to keep her protagonist human. Although an unreliable narrator (after all, her words are evidence in the murder trial), Grace describes the harshest details of her 21-day journey in an unsympathetic, matter-of-fact tone, which critics thought only add to the book's plausibility. Her credo? "G-d helps those who help themselves." Though bleak, the novel is powerful.