The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

A quick rundown… A ship is sunk and the occupants of one lifeboat must survive at any cost. Grace tells us this harrowing story and its aftermath.

Strengths: Made me think and doubt, then think some more.

Weaknesses: The majority of the book is set on a lifeboat, so don’t expect many different settings!

Why I read it: Book club read

Pages: 279

Published: 2012

Publisher: Virago

Setting: England, America and the ocean

Rating: 7 out of 10

The Lifeboat was one of my book club’s reads, but at the time I didn’t really mind because it had been lurking on the edges of my radar for some time. It’s a fairly short read (I read it over a few days in the middle of the working week) and predominantly character based (as you would expect because there’s not really very much change in scenery on a small boat in the middle of the ocean).

As you’d expect from the title, the book is about a ship that sinks in the middle of the ocean on the way to America from England. The majority of the book takes place on the lifeboat, with some asides to the pre-boarding time of Grace and her new husband and the aftermath. In some ways, it reminded me of Emma Donoghue’s The Sealed Letter in that we see all the events unfolding to finish with a big crescendo.

When I read this book, I really didn’t mind it, but didn’t love it. I thought Grace, the narrator, was cleverly done, as she appeared to be both naïve at times, then quite calculating. I think Rogan left enough hints for me to doubt how reliable Grace was as a narrator. Using Grace as the narrator I felt made some of the boat’s power struggles between characters seem less important than what they may have been. Perhaps using the third person would have demonstrated this a bit more clearly, as well as showing the issues without bias. However, I think Rogan was testing the reader’s power of observation in addition to making us question how often we believe someone is telling the absolute truth, rather than their version. I thought the boat scenes dragged sometimes and felt repetitive – there was a lot of moaning and fatalistic comments, but that appeared to ring true with what I think would happen if you were stuck on a lifeboat. When relief came (this is not a spoiler), it all happened too quickly and without the power plays that had been going on in the lifeboat.

A lot of people at my book club disliked this book (however, I must warn you that there is one person who detests every book we read) – they felt it was boring and could have been more eventful. I think Rogan did well with what she had and we need to remember this is Grace’s story. Few shared my thoughts that Grace was not the most unbiased person to tell the story (but then again, was anyone in that boat?) I think if you’re interested in stories of survival or books with unreliable narrators, you’ll like this one.

5 thoughts on “The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Add yours

  1. I read this last year and I was very disappointed. The story held so much promise. But Grace was such an awful character. I didn’t like her at all. I kept thinking about the other characters and wondering what they had to say. The unreliable narrator didn’t work for me and in the end too many questions were left unanswered.

  2. I wanted to read this when it first came out bvut never got around to getting a copy.
    I attended a book club for just under a year – it became a pain, odd people choosing odd books I had no wish to read – I stopped going. 🙂

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