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.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.