Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Review)

Genre:Drama, Historical Fiction, Survival
Publication.Date  April 3rd 2012
Published By:  Reagan Arthur Books| 
WebsiteCharlotte Rogan | 

The Lifeboat - Goodreads
My review copy:A copy of the book received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Where to get:

Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she'd found. Will she pay any price to keep it?

The Lifeboat is a page-turning novel of hard choices and survival, narrated by a woman as unforgettable and complex as the events she describes.

“I had been allowed to believe in man's innate goodness for the twenty-two years of my life, and I had hoped to carry the belief with me to my grave. I wanted to think that all people could have what they wanted, that there was no inherent conflict between competing interests, and that, if tragedies had to happen, they were not something mere human beings could control.” 
“I wondered if all a person could hope for was illusion and luck, for I was forced to conclude that the world was fundamentally and appallingly dangerous. It is a lesson I will never forget.” 
“When we are babies...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 family life is the limit of the universe...As we mature, our horizon expands and we begin to question. This continues until we either throw over our creators--our parents--for good and take their place as the creative force in our lives or find replacements for them because the terror and responsibility are too great. People go one way or the other, and this accounts for all of the great personal and political divides throughout history.” 

     The story takes place in 1914 and centres around Grace Winter, a 22-year-old woman who survived the sinking of Empress Alexandra (a luxurious ocean liner), and is now -- together with two other people -- on trial for murder. Through first-person narrative, Grace recounts the events that took place during the 21 days she and 38 other survivors spent in the Lifeboat 14, floating around the Atlantic ocean, waiting to be rescued. As food and water run out, and the overloaded lifeboat threatens to sink, the lives of the remaining passengers are once again in great danger. They quickly realize that for any to survive, some of them are going to have to die. 

     When I first heard about this novel, I was instantly intrigued. I am a total sucker for gripping survival stories, especially when they explore concepts such as morality, ethics, justice, and sacrifice. Sadly, my initial excitement quickly seeped out of me when I realized -- after about 30 pages -- that this book was not going to be as thrilling, riveting and emotionally devastating as I expected. 

     While parts of it are quite interesting, sometimes even captivating, my overall impression was not very favorable. The writing style is rather dry and tedious, and the story flattens out towards the end. Its failure to deliver on both the emotional and intellectual level prevented me from being fully invested in the unravelling events, and left me feeling indifferent to the outcome of the situation. For one, I felt unable to connect with the passive and strangely dazed heroine. She seemed cold and detached, and it was very hard for me to imagine her in an overloaded lifeboat, fighting for survival. Whether she did a really amazing job remaining calm and composed, or simply did not want - or know how - to react (shock? fear? withdrawal?) -- I honestly couldn't tell. Whatever the reason (if there ever was one to begin with), the fact remains that her emotional response was almost entirely non existent. As the story progresses, we learn a bit more about her, her life, and the motivations behind her action. Her psychology, however, is never deeply explored and a lot is left for the reader to figure out on their own. Grace recounts the events in an emotionless, matter-of-factly voice, providing lots of vivid details, but not much personal reflections. And that's probably what bothered me the most about this book. For someone who was on that sinking boat and lived through all those horrible events, she remained surprisingly uninvolved, and more often that not she seemed only mildly interested in her own survival.

     While I don't consider myself to be a particularly discerning or demanding reader, I do like my books to offer something more than just a lukewarm, remotely thrilling story and a bunch of unresolved plot lines. This book - though enjoyable to a certain extent - left me unsatisfied. Perhaps I went into reading it expecting too much -- and given the endlessly fascinating premise it's not entirely surprising that I did - but the truth is the closer I got to the conclusion of the story, the less I cared about it. In the end, what promised to be an utterly absorbing and thought-provoking examination of human nature, proved to be merely an OK read with a great - but ultimately unexplored - potential. The ethical and moral aspects of this story were barely ever mentioned (and even when they came up, they weren't examined as thoroughly as they could have been), and the main character seemed more concerned with the prospect of losing her newly acquired wealth, than she was with the deaths of her fellow passengers (or her husband for that matter). It's perfectly fine to make a selfish, manipulative person the lead character -- reading about flawed people is always interesting and more realistic -- but even such characters have emotions, especially in extremely stressful, life-threatening situations. Grace seemed oddly disconnected from reality, almost ghost-like, and that did not make me cheer for her, nor especially care about her story for that matter.

     That is not to say that this book is a total fiasco. Not at all. Though it lacks the narrative dread and it fails to tap into greater truths and deeper feelings, it's still quite an enjoyable read. If you can get past the unanswered questions, unresolved plot lines, and the lack of character growth in Grace, you might even like it. It is a quick and pleasant read, just not a deep one. Not a bad story by any means, just one that -- if approached differently -- could have been much better. But if you want a story that will really move you, you should probably look somewhere else.

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About the Author
Evie is the Blogger behind Bookish. She enjoys reading many different genres, especially YA, Paranormal, Contemporary Fiction and Fantasy.
She loves talking to authors and is always happy to welcome them for interviews, and guest posts. She also likes spreading the love for awesome books and  chatting with fellow book-worms.
You can find Evie here: Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Shelfari | The Library Thing


Amy said...

I really like survival stories too, but they have to give me an emotional connection. If they don't I get bored easy since there typically isn't a whole lot going on. The character needs to keep me engaged and really want their survival. It sounds like a decent book, but nothing special. Great review!

Bonnie said...

Evie I really appreciate your honesty in this review. For a disaster novel to really call to me it has to convey some sense of urgency. I have to be able to feel the struggle of the characters, otherwise it's like reading a history textbook you know what I mean. Too bad that this one didn't allow for more of a connection to the main character because it sounds like it had a lot of potential!

Shane said...

Your reviews are awesome!

Blook Girl said...

Wow, that synopsis sounds right up my alley, so it's disappointing to hear that the writing is dry and the characters largely uninvolved.

Oh well. Maybe I'll borrow this from someone instead of investing any money in it.

Great review, Evie! :-)

Lili said...

I survival story that really got the tears flowing for me was Survive by Alex Morel. I'd recommend that one!

I'm sorry this one wasn't what you fully expected it to be, I think I'll stay away from it.

Jaime Lester said...

As much as I like the cover, I just don't think this one is for me. A 3 star review from you is rare, so it just doesn't bode well with me. Thanks for your review!

Asheley (@BookwormAsheley) said...

Bummer, dude. That cover is gorgeous. But it IS odd that the newlywed woman seems so detached.

I like survival stories when I read with my heart in knots, but if they are too flat - I find myself unenthusiastic or just putting the book down.

I love an honest review, Evie! Thanks for sharing this one. I hadn't heart of it before.

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