Wednesday, November 20, 2013

THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Rogan

Books about lifeboats seem to appeal to me.  I loved Life of Pi and Unbroken, and this novel is no exception.  The story takes place two years after the sinking of the Titanic, when another ocean liner has wrecked in the Atlantic.  Grace finds herself in a crowded lifeboat with 37 other passengers, plus a seaman named Mr. Hardie.  Hardie displays an obvious distaste for the likes of the over-privileged survivors in the boat and takes some snide pleasure in rationing their supplies and directing them in various chores.  He's a distasteful and shady character, but I had some difficulty in classifying him as an outright villain, even as he forbids the others from hauling other survivors out of the water into their already over-crowded lifeboat.  Herein lies the crux of the story:  How far should we go to protect ourselves in a life-and-death situation like this?  Do the usual laws of a civilized society apply, or do the laws of nature, such as survival of the fittest, seem more appropriate?  Or, more accurately, should a few be sacrificed in order to save the majority?  This question becomes more and more pressing as the days stretch into weeks, and the characters become more contentious, aligning themselves with competing factions.  One woman, Mrs. Grant, begins to form alliances with some of the other women, who outnumber the men, and threatens Mr. Hardie's authority.  The whole situation reminded me of William Golding's Lord of the Flies—the mounting desperation as the hope of being rescued diminishes, the uprising, the savagery, and the matter-of-fact manner in which the author describes a climactic, unthinkable action by a group of human beings.  We know from the beginning that Grace faces a court trial after being rescued, but I can't possibly judge these characters.  For what it's worth, the book is not particularly gruesome; it's an adventure that will raise questions in your mind as to what you would have done in Grace's position.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Nice review. I saw the author at a book event New York last September, but never got around to reading this book.

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