What would you do if you were stranded on a boat with 39 fellow passengers from a shipwreck and then convicted of murder after being rescued?
Grace Winter is only twenty-two, both newly married and then widowed, when the ship Empress Alexandria sinks with her husband on board in the Summer of 1914. He doesn’t survive, along with many others who don’t make it, but she ends up on Lifeboat 14 (thanks to her husband, Henry). It becomes her home for the next few weeks and she has to share it with other survivors who are as fearful, uncertain and desperate as her.
The boat suddenly represents a community which needs to make rash decisions about what the next action is to take in order to stay alive. Since there are more survivors in the boat than space, it quickly dawns on everyone that some people will have to die by sacrificing themselves.
The story gets intriguing as Mr. Hardie, a man who was part of the original crew on the Empress Alexandria, takes initiative to be the boat’s captain. When one woman on board (Mrs. Grant) challenges his decisions and expresses her disapproval of the way he oversees rations, conflict and conspiracy rear their ugly heads. There are more women than men on the boat, so the dilemma might almost be about the battle between sexes at one point. The crew is forced to face the choice of either supporting Mr. Hardie or not. The result will make you squirm.
This novel is definitely in the ranks of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. It all comes down to who betrays who and the consequences of making choices in a tight situation. Does the crew benefit as a whole, based on their actions, or are they thinking only of themselves? When Mr. Hardie makes them draw straws to see who should jump overboard, there is the same eerie feeling that one gets when reading Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
Grace somehow manages to get roped into choosing between helping get rid of Mr. Hardie or refusing to listen to Mrs. Grant. Her decision ultimately leads her to the courtroom. We ride the waves with the characters as if we were Grace and witness what takes place on Lifeboat 14, as she retells the horrifying moments she experiences (physically, mentally and socially).
It really is a book to get you thinking and make you ask: “What would I have done?” Then make you sigh with relief as you exclaim: “Thank God it wasn’t me!”
This is Charlotte Rogan’s first story. I thought it was a good effort in terms of issue-driven reading. She certainly grabbed my attention. What did you feel about the book?
To read reviews on The Lifeboat please click on the links below.
From the Los Angeles Times:
From The New York Times:
For information on Charlotte Rogan, please click on the link below:
Here are some things to think about after you’ve read the story:
-In disaster situations, is it right to save women and children first? What moral justifications exist for your answer?
-Should Grace have been acquitted of Mr. Hardie’s murder?
For more questions where those came from, please click on the link below which will bring you to the author’s website:
I went in search of finding out if at any time in history, people who survived a shipwreck were ever convicted of murder and sentenced. It seems there was a case that was popular in British law and court history. The case opened in 1884 under the file named The Queen v Dudley and Stephens. The defendants were accused of killing one of their own ship mates (17 year old Richard Parker) in order to survive on his flesh and blood. They discussed at one point that they would draw straws to determine who would sacrifice their body for that purpose. The idea was dropped until Parker fell into a coma and could not fend for himself. It was then decided by two of the sailors that they would kill him and feed on him. If you want to read more about this tragic incident, please click on the link below which will bring you to the file and ruling:
This book reminded me of …
I know I mentioned that this novel is one about human survival; on the same level as the likes of Golding and Jackson but while reading it, certain aspects of the story called to mind other titles that I have read recently. The parts where Grace tells us about the violent wind and waves brings back images from the scenes of The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning. In that novel, there is a description of when the boat is trapped on the water during a violent storm and it is as tense as the stormy moments in Rogan’s book. As well, the fact that the main character is a young woman who was involved in a man’s murder (while also being the narrator) and somehow escaping the law, reminds me of The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb.
Favorite quote from book:
When Mr. Sinclair tells Grace about how “man’s relationship with God replays the life cycle. ‘When we are babies,’ he said, ‘we need an authoritative figure to guide and take care of us. We ask no questions about that authority and imagine that the small circumference of our family life is the limit of the universe and that what we see before us is what exists everywhere and also that it is all as it should be. As we mature, our horizon expands and we begin to question.'” (p. 263)
Most brutal moment in the story:
It doesn’t get any more dramatic than when the three women team up against Mr. Hardie in an effort to take leadership over the boat. You almost don’t want to know what happens next. (p. 191-193)
Next month’s title:
The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay