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The Lifeboat: A Novel Hardcover – April 3, 2012

3.4 out of 5 stars 474 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Charlotte Rogan uses a deceptively simply narrative of shipwreck and survival to explore our all-too-human capacity for self-deception."―J. M. Coetzee

"The Lifeboat traps the reader in a story that is exciting at the literal level and brutally moving at the existential: I read it in one go."―Emma Donoghue, author of Room

"What a splendid book. . . . I can't imagine any reader who looks at the opening pages wanting to put the book down. . . . It's so refreshing to read a book that is ambitious and yet not tricksy, where the author seems to be in command of her material and really on top of her game. It's beautifully controlled and totally believable."―Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall

"The Lifeboat is a spellbinding and beautifully written novel, one that will keep readers turning pages late into the night. This is storytelling at its best, and I was completely absorbed from beginning to end."―Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried, In the Lake of the Woods, July, July

"The Lifeboat is a richly rewarding novel, psychologically acute and morally complex. It can and should be read on many levels, but it is first and foremost a harrowing tale of survival. And what an irresistible tale it is; terrifying, intense, and, like the ocean in which the shipwrecked characters are cast adrift, profound."―Valerie Martin, author of Property and The Confessions of Edward Day

About the Author

Charlotte Rogan studied architecture at Princeton University and worked for a large construction firm before turning to fiction. She is the author of The Lifeboat, which was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and which has been translated into twenty-six languages. After many years in Dallas and a year in Johannesburg, she now lives in Westport, Connecticut.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; 1 edition (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316185906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316185905
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (474 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
While I had hoped for a more intense story about the dynamics of people unknown to each other being placed in peril on a lifeboat, this turned out to be a strangely dispassionate narrative from only one person's perspective. Because that person was selfishly passive about her circumstances, and so easily manipulated if she thought there was something in it for her, we learn almost nothing about the other passengers. Everything is filtered through Grace's shifting perceptions. Grace is a seriously flawed person, and that usually offers literary opportunity for growth. But Grace's flaws were with her before the lifeboat, remained with her throughout the time on the sea, and her trial, and she came out the other side essentially unchanged. There is a lot of discussion of the ethics and morality of lifeboat survival, mixed with strong undercurrents of the gender politics of a century ago. None of this gave life to any of the characters and I found no one to root for or have any serious curiousity about. There were many loose ends left unresolved, showing them to be no more than red herrings and filler. The book ended with a shrug.
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Format: Hardcover
Clear the decks and call in sick; once you begin reading this riveting this debut book, it's going to be hard to come up for air.

The narrator, aptly named Grace, appears on the first pages and right away, we know a few important plot points. We know that Grace survived on a lifeboat after her ship - like the Titanic two years prior - goes down. We also know that she is now on trial for a murder that took place during the ensuing ordeal. But here's what we don't know: how reliable is Grace as the tale-teller? Is she coldly capable of taking whatever actions are necessary to survive? Or is she simply a shell-shocked bystander, susceptible to the slightest suggestion?

In flashbacks, we learn about the harsh reality of lifeboat passenger survival, under the direction of one of the sea fellows named Hardie. The name is likely no accident: like Thomas Hardy's characters, Hardie and the rest of the survivors are overwhelmingly and overpoweringly in the grip of fate and chance. "None of us are worth a spit," Grace ruminates. "We were stripped of all decency. I couldn't see that there was anything good or noble left once food and shelter were taken away."

Indeed, as the characters are forced to endure worse and worse conditions - decreasing rations of food and water, the unexpected squall, the weakening of body and spirit, the emotional horrors of wondering about loved ones - they also form alliances that are crucial in determining who will live and who will die. It quickly becomes evident that some must be sacrificed for the majority to live since the lifeboat bears more people than it can safely carry.

There is an elegiac overlay in this tale: Hardie is at first regarded as all-knowing and godlike.
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Format: Hardcover
For the most part, Charlotte Rogan's The Lifeboat is much like any many other books and films (Hitchcock's Lifeboat inevitably comes to mind) that deal with the desperate lengths people living in close quarters will be driven to in order to survive a catastrophic event, as well as exploring how different characters and personalities react when pushed to and beyond their limits of endurance. The vast majority of Rogan's novel explores the dynamic between what initially starts out as 39 people over the course of three weeks on the high seas following the sinking of their transatlantic liner, the Empress Alexandra, in 1914. What introduces an element of suspense and opens a wider context on events however is the fact that the narrator, Grace Winter, is writing her account in preparation for a court case, so we know that there are survivors from the wreck, but also that some serious drama has occurred over these three weeks that needs to be accounted for in a court of law.

That's a good enough hook, and Rogan's writing is strong and vivid in its account of the struggle for survival, the conditions on the over-populated lifeboat, and of the tensions and psychological states of those on board, and the conflict that inevitably ensues. The Lifeboat then is a story about survival, but the question of how to survive extends beyond the three weeks at sea, and the novel has other ambitions and implications that relate to the period - the First World War has just broken out - as well as to the roles assigned to men and women, how they are expected to behave and how, when pushed to a crisis, those roles are about to change.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, a mysterious explosion causes the Empress Alexandra to meet the same fate. A lifeboat - with a capacity of about 36 - launches with 39 total people on it and is precariously low in the water. Of the 39 people in the lifeboat, we know that by the end of the ordeal, three women, including our narrator, are being charged with murder. How they get there is the point of the story.

This book, published one hundred years after the sinking of the Titanic and amid all of the Titanic-panic going on in theaters and on television right now, was well-played by the publishers. They chose the perfect time to publish a fictional account of the sinking of a ship and a group of passengers on a lifeboat.

As with many books I read, I thought that this one had a very cool premise, but it was not as well executed as I had hoped. The story was told in a first person narrative, but the narrator had few thoughts of her own. Most of the happenings were documented as this happened, then this happened, and I remember thinking this, then this happened. It was hard to connect with anyone in the lifeboat, but maybe the author intended us to see how emotionlessly she was able to recount all of the events. I'm not sure, but it didn't work for me.

Also, I disliked how a lot of the mysteries of the book were never solved. Since it was told from the narrator's point of view, we only learn the answers to our questions insofar as she does, which is not always a whole lot of answer. Once again, I'm sure the author intended this, but I didn't like it!

Overall, I give this book 3/5 stars simply because the mystery kept me reading, even if I couldn't get connected to the novel.
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