“The Lifeboat” by Charlotte Rogan…wow. I couldn’t put this novel down. I started it last night in bed after July 4 fireworks. I continued reading it first thing in the morning and just finished. I haven’t done a full, sole book review in quite a while, so this should also show how much the book impressed me.
Basic plot: A group of shipwreck survivors between the times of the Titanic and the Lusitania struggle to, well, survive in a lifeboat that can’t handle their numbers. They’re immediately faced with many morally gray decisions. For example, right after the wreck, they don’t pick up a child because the boat has no room for him, and survivors battle off with their oars people trying to get into the boat. The moral grayness only increases in the weeks that follow as they’re stranded at sea.
Grace Winter, in first-person narrative, tells the story. She’s a flawed, cunning person, both before and after the shipwreck. Her character doesn’t really grow, nor does it need to. Grace knows who she is and accepts who she is. Some other reviewers have noted they found it hard to “root” for Grace. I didn’t have this problem at all. I was intrigued to see what would happen next, what she would do next. Her mind is one I don’t get to read about nearly enough in literature, and I loved the insight here. She said at one point something like: “You can’t be innocent and alive.” That sums up the morality of the book, I believe. People judge other people with absolutely no insight of what these people have been through and what the judges may have done in their shoes. Life itself is a moral gamble, and morality is situational and relative.
For another book on moral grayness and being stranded at sea, I highly recommend the nonfiction “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick.