The Life Boat by Charlotte Rogan just happens to be published at the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. There are some similarities in this story to the Titanic as this is also about a luxury liner crossing the Atlantic in 1914 and it sinks. The story departs from the Titanic at the sinking and forks to a different story line- the survivors on an overcrowded lifeboat and the choices that are made. When the Titanic sank, all survivors in lifeboats were picked up within six hours, not true for this ship, the Empress Alexandra, whose survivors wait almost 21 days for rescue and the drama that unfolds is what captures the reader.
Told by 22 year old Grace who through manipulation and good fortune has married a wealthy man to flee her circumstances of poverty. Her husband Henry’s last act is forcing a place for Grace on an overcrowded lifeboat. Grace narrates the events on Lifeboat 14 as they wait to be rescued. The passengers on Lifeboat 14 face decisions for survival and sacrifice for the good of the whole. At first John Hardie , one of the crew from the ship, takes charge of the boat by redistributing the weight in the overcrowded boat, and instructing the passengers to row. Yet, his directions don’t stop there. A disturbing image is his decision to abandon adults and a child to certain death in the ocean, in some cases beating them to stay away from their lifeboat, while the passengers protest yet remain passive. The choices become more personal as Hardie has men draw straws for who must sacrifice their life by jumping off the lifeboat so food and space could be provided for the remainder- killing some for the good of the others. What choice would you make if you were in their situation? Are you guilty if you don’t stop an act of murder?
“Grace realizes that her survival could depend on whether she backs the ruthless but experienced John Hardie or the enigmatic but increasingly forceful Ursula Grant. Over the course of three perilous weeks, the lifeboat passengers plot, scheme, gossip and console one another while questioning their deepest assumptions about goodness, humanity and God” ( Rogan, The Lifeboat, 2012 ). As the lifeboat drifts at sea, the desperation, doubt and fear drive the survivors into a mutiny, those who act and those who remain silent and thus complicit, as a murder takes place.
“Grace is finally rescued, only to be put on trial for her life. Unsure what to make of their client, Grace’s attorneys suggest she write her story down. The result is a page-turning tale of moral dilemmas, and also a haunting portrait of a woman as unforgettable and complicated as the events she describes” ( Rogan, The Lifeboat , 2012).