Review: The Lifeboat

The Lifeboat

The Lifeboat
By Charlotte Rogan
(Reagan Arthur Books, Hardcover, 9780316185905, April 2012, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

Strong start, weak finish.

The Rest of It:

After an explosion sinks the luxury liner she and her husband were on, Grace Winter finds herself floating across the Atlantic with thirty-eight other passengers in a lifeboat meant for much less. What follows is an account of what happens when food and water run scarce and when all hope of rescue is lost.

The story is told from Grace’s point of view as she recounts the events leading up to her rescue. From the beginning, the reader knows two things… that Grace was not the only one to have survived and that she is on trial for something that she did…or didn’t do. That part remains a mystery for most of the book and is what kept me reading.

When the ship goes down, they have little time to launch the lifeboats so half of them don’t make it out and the ones that do, are either terribly overcrowded, as is the case with Grace’s, or not manned by a knowledgeable crew member.  In this sense, Grace is lucky. Her lifeboat, although overcrowded and taking on water is manned by a crew member so their plight seems less serious than say, some of the other boats, but as they float for three weeks and their chance of rescue decreases, tempers flare and desperation sets in.

Grace was a hard character to like. On the surface, she seemed very straightforward and possessed a great deal of common sense. Young, and a newlywed at that, she seemed to hold it together pretty well given that her husband’s status was an unknown throughout much of the book. However, there was a coldness to her that I didn’t care for. Calculating and detached. Those two words kept coming up for me when I was reading her story and it bothered me. It made it hard for me to see things from her point of view and given that this is her story, I struggled with parts of it.

My interest in the book started to wane at about the halfway mark. They were still on the lifeboat but the day-to-day routine was becoming tiresome and not much else was shared about the other passengers. At this point, Grace was interested in Grace. This retreat into herself didn’t work for me. I wanted to know more about the others, so that I could understand the full effect of Grace’s actions.

This is one of those stories where one particular character finds herself pushed to her limits, but I never got to see that desperation. I expected to see her snap or to be overcome with grief or to experience some other extreme emotion, but what the author delivered was just a shell of what I had expected to see. Because of this, Grace’s outcome meant little to me.

Besides my inability to feel much for Grace, I didn’t think there was enough conflict on the lifeboat itself. Small boat, too many people with little food and water between them. That is a recipe for disaster and yet… what took place didn’t seem all that bad to me. The passengers seemed too civilized for me to take their situation seriously and I never felt the danger that they were obviously in. Perhaps, me knowing that there were survivors lessened the sense of danger for me. That is one possibility.

Quite some time ago, I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I had trouble with that book too (for different reasons) but the lifeboat scenes in that book were riveting and so real that my stomach ached from hunger. I think I expected a little bit more of that in this one.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

27 thoughts on “Review: The Lifeboat”

  1. hey Ti,
    Strangely, Just five minutes ago I was reading another review for the lifeboat, which got me all interested, because I find cabin fever fascinating (erm, to read about)
    But your review says that it doesn’t go into that so much, so, yeah, I pretty much lost interest.
    Thank you for such a precise review!

    1. I enjoy reading about cabin fever too but there was very little in The Lifeboat. Not as much as you’d expect given their cramped quarters and the three weektime frame. Plus, there were these entire conversations taking place where no one knew what was going on. How could that happen on such a small boat. You’d know if stuff was being talked about because you’d be like 3 feet from it.

  2. I have been curious about this book, but the fact that the main character was difficult to sympathize with, and the book spent a lot of time examining her and her motives kind of turns me off. I had been on the fence about this one, but now I know that I probably won’t read it. It seems to bleak and the protagonist seems very unlikable. Very strong and captivating review today. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

  3. I’ve been seeing this one around and had it on my ‘maybe’ list. As usual, I can always count on your candor and insight, so I will probably pass on this one. The premise sounds good but without a solid connection and a good ending, its hard not to be disappointed, IMO.

  4. Ti, I thought this book sounded like my cup of tea, but after reading your post I’m not so sure. I’m leaning towards still reading it, but possibly putting it off until later this fall. Thanks for an honest post (as always) 🙂

  5. Unbroken is on my TBR, but I will probably skip this one. After looking at all the books on my TBR and WishList yesterday, I’ve decided that I’m not going to waste time on books I think I might be reading just because…life’s too short for that! I so appreciate a review like yours, Ti, that honestly explains the positives and the negatives. I think it helps the reader make a more realistic decision for himself/herself. Thanks!!

    1. The point to what though? I don’t need to like her, but since it was told from her point of view, it had this detached quality to the whole thing.

  6. Hmm. I remember someone mentioning this as being a good one for a book club, but I admit my interest ended when I read the description. I don’t know. I know some people have loved this book, and I am sorry you found in lacking. Unless someone can come along and convince me otherwise, I think I’ll skip this one.

    1. Even though I didn’t like it, I can see why someone would think it would make a good club pick. There is a lot to discuss ethically as well as the structure itself.

  7. Into your review but I know this one would freak me out!!!

    Especially when the main character isn’t even likeable…

  8. Hmm, that’s disappointing! And Sandy mentioned, too, that she wasn’t loving it. I have this on hold at the library, but I really don’t have the desire any more to spend time on a book I don’t think I’ll love. I’ll have to re-consider this one..

  9. Sometimes I don’t like a character but it works for the book and doesn’t impact the story negatively. In The Lifeboat it sounds like Grace’s personality and attitude casts apall over the story, bringing it down. And I cannot imagine being crammed in a lifeboat with many other people, in a frightening situation, and your focus is on yourself. Some other parts of this story sound questionable, too. I may read it as I recently won a copy but I have some other books to read first!

    I really appreciate your candid, thought-provoking review!

  10. Sad to hear this one didn’t live up to your expectations. The fact that life on a floating raft for three weeks became a ‘routine’ is hard to believe. There definitely should have been more conflict or scheming or people going completely mad. I know I probably would!

    1. Like you, I would go freaking nuts having to deal with these people for 3 weeks! It all seemed too easy even through they did have their challenges.

  11. For me, the whole issue of what kind of person Grace is provided the suspense of the book — becuase the whole survival in a lifeboat suspense was kind of lacking. It was a kind of “read between the lines” kind of book for me.

  12. I was so excited to read this one, but the reviews lately all seem to mention the weak finish. This one might stay on my shelf for quite some time!

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