Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan)

I’ve had the pleasure of reading some darn good debut novels lately.  Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child is a beautifully written tale set in Alaska that’s based on a Russian fairy tale.  Now comes a novel where, again, the setting plays a central role in the story. 

Set in the early 1900s, The Lifeboat is about a disaster on a large shipliner, the Empress Alexandra.  Grace’s new husband, Henry, takes her to one of the lifeboats, and then she never sees him again.  She is in the boat with strangers, and they quickly split up into two factions.  Following Mr. Hardie, the seaman with a wealth of experience, will require making the necessary difficult decisions for survival.  Mrs. Grant, on the other hand, tries to keep some semblance of morality when all seems lost.  Both sides must do what society would deem terrible things.  We discover very early on that Grace survives, but she’s been arrested for her part in the lifeboat saga.  What did she do?  Where does she go from here?

The Lifeboat is a quick read and very easy to devour in one or two sittings.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, knowing that Grace made it out, but not knowing why she’s on trial.  Part psychological drama, part thriller, and part survival story, Rogan has delivered a tour de force first novel…and makes it look easy.