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The Lifeboat is a tale of desperation, guile, hope and betrayal. It is about 39 people who find themselves in a lifeboat right after their large ship, the Empress Alexandra, sinks. The story takes place in 1914, two years after the sinking of the great ship, the Titanic. As with the Titanic, there was insufficient space on the lifeboats for all the passengers. Supposedly, the lifeboats could fit 39 people but at the last minute the manufacturer reduced the capacity of the lifeboats. However, they did not change the metal tag that said the capacity was 39 people.

So here we have 39 people jockeying for a place on a lifeboat not made to fit them all. A seaman named Hardie takes control of one of the boats and is a natural leader though cold and hard. He controls everything that happens on the boat as it flounders at sea waiting for days and then weeks for a rescue ship that never comes. The survivors eat the fish he spears, the birds that fall from the sky into the ship and find themselves not unlike animals. "The nights were cold, and the more emaciated we became, the less our bodies worked to keep us warm. When I looked at the others, I was shocked to notice their sunken eyes and hollow cheeks...and I knew we had all retreated into memory in order to escape the harsh realities of our plight."

Fear was their constant companion. Along with fear, their true natures were coming out. "The bare bones of our natures were showing. None of us was worth a spit. 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." The gray areas of morality were very clear. Nothing was black or white. One thing that was clear though was that "I looked around and realized that we were all predators and that we always had been."

Grace is the protagonist of the story and the narrator. However, we don't know how accurate her rendition of events actually is. She keeps her cards close. We do know that she tried to take advantage of things in her life prior to finding herself in this boat. We know that she chose her husband after reading an article in the social pages of her newspaper, knowing he was rich and a good catch. Stealing him didn't phase her, and stealing it was. He was engaged to be married shortly to a woman he'd known most of his life.

In the prologue we find out that Grace and two other women on the boat are in jail awaiting trial for their lives, that Grace's husband is dead, and that her lawyer wants her to write a narrative of her time at sea. This narrative is the book we read. They are on trial for throwing others overboard to save their own lives. How can we believe Grace's tale completely for she is of shaky moral grounding. Couldn't this narrative be written to put her in a good light and make others look bad.

The book reminded me a bit of William Golding's `Lord of the Flies', where a group of boys find themselves stranded on an island and make a government for themselves that subsequently implodes. On the rescue ship, the leadership of Hardie is questioned and after a while two women, Hannah and Mrs. Grant try a coup. Things go from bad to worse. I was also reminded of the great painting by Gericault, The Raft of the Medusa. According to Wikipedia, it depicts the aftermath of a shipwreck where those who survived endured starvation, dehydration, cannibalism and madness.

This is a very readable book, a page-turner, grabbing the reader from page one. It is a book about morality, about the decisions we must make when in dire circumstances and what happens to people when they are placed in life-threatening situations. It is a book about choices and opportunities, faith and fatality. How close is a human being to an animal when placed in a dire situation? The author, Charlotte Rogan is a fine writer with a wonderful grasp of philosophy and psychology. You would never know that this was her first novel.
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on January 24, 2016
You know those ethics questions that start out like, "a bunch of people are on a lifeboat and there's not enough food for all of them. How do you decide who dies?"
Well, someone decided to make that into a book.
I saw great reviews and had high hopes even though the topic seemed sort of trite.
I wish I hadn't wasted my time.
It was ok though. Just predictable and so a bit annoying.
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on January 16, 2013
For a first novel, Charlotte Rogan's, "The Lifeboat" is a very interesting book. She develops her characters very well and the plot contains a number of interesting twists and turns. The reader can imagine where the plot is going but Ms. Rogan will take it in another surprising direction. The author is outstanding at allowing the main character to speak volumes to the reader through her "thoughts" alone. I would have preferred to see several of the scenes played out in more detail,i.e., what occurred between the time the two strong female characters assumed control of the lifeboat and the subsequent rescue; how did the two women deal with the men who remained on the lifeboat and a few more details of the actual rescue itself. Overall it is a very good book and I will be interested is watching Ms. Rogan's literary skills continue to develop in subsequent novels.

For those who would like an outstanding book of a real life story of a forty-seven day survival in a small life raft in the Pacific Ocean I recommend Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken", which in my mind is a "Five Star" book.
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on August 20, 2017
The Lifeboat is an eyeopening story of what takes place when passengers from a luxury ocean liner find themselves on a lifeboat after their ship sinks in the cold Atlantic. Told by one of the elite passengers the story will amaze you and show what humans will do to survive. I don't think I'd have made it but then may be I would have because we don't know our own strengths until we are in trying times.
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on June 30, 2012
The premise of The Lifeboat is an excellent one; however, as I kept reading, I found that I wanted to know more about Hannah and less about Grace. Grace appears to be a spoiled, beautiful woman who doesn't know too much about the real world, while Hannah was a mysterious woman torn between Grace and Mr. Grant, the uberwench. If the author had framed her story around Hannah's recollection, I think the reader would have benifited more and learned better what went on regarding her impressions of the characters. As a yet unpublished writer myself who reads voraciously, I can relate to the difficulty an author faces when they have to choose a voice to tell their story. The writing was very good but the characterization could have been better.
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on January 24, 2013
That seems to be the fundamental question this book asks. Its an interesting concept and I think the author explores it really well. This is a book that takes a while to read. It's not light reading and its not just a story. There are a lot of philosophical queries in the book that seem to take over the main story and take a while to digest. I'm still not sure what to think of this book. I honestly can't say I liked it or even enjoyed it. I can appreciate a lot of the arguments it presents and found my self pondering them as I read. It's very well written at times. The words flowed and the imagery was beautiful, but there were also times where it just seemed to go on forever and I found myself having to re-read certain parts because my attention had strayed. Grace (the main character) is extremely indecisive. I didn't really like her but I can also appreciate that we (the reader) aren't really meant to like her. She is extremely weak at times, and manipulative and immoral at others. The characters in this book are put in an impossible situation and asked to survive. The story follows their journey from being rather normal human beings to turning into amoral beings in order to survive. The concept is really a very interesting one, but the story could not keep my attention the whole time. The ending leaves a lot to be desired. I would suggest reading this book for the philosophical questions it puts through and not for the actual story line.
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on May 13, 2012
This story is about forty people who get into a lifeboat in the North Atlantic and the relationships that develop between them. Friction develops between key people on the boat. Most of the novel is about how this friction impacts who survives and who doesn't. Eventually, a murder takes place on the lifeboat. The story begins with the main character , Grace, talking to her lawyer in a prison. She has been accused of the murder along with two other women. The story plods along for almost half the book. There comes a point in their attempt to survive when it is concluded there are too many people in the boat. This is a very gripping part of the story as they decide what to do. Unfortunately, there are too few intense moments like this one. The emphasis of the story is mostly about relationships and not much about the actual survival. I never connected with the characters. Although i have never been stranded on a lifeboat, some of the behaviors described seemed unbelievable. The end of the story is the trial. You are left wondering what kind of person Grace really is.
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on May 13, 2012
The year is 1914, just before the start of World War I. The Empress Alexandra, a large passenger liner on a passage from Britain to New York has just sunk after having been set aflame by an explosion of some sort; and 22 year old Grace Winter, a newlywed, who was on her way with her husband Henry to meet Henry's very upper class parents in the US is one of 39 survivors crammed into a lifeboat with a "maximum capacity" of 36. So begins her first person narrative of survival - three weeks in an open boat in mid Atlantic during which only 25 survive the ordeal.

It's not written to tell a story. No. She writes it to help her defense lawyers in the murder case brought against her and two other survivors in New York after the rescue. But from the first page to the last in this remarkable first novel by Charlotte Rogan the whole book is a great story and Grace's story is just a story within the larger work, well written, with memorable characters and the not unusual plot of how we behave when forced to endure deadly mutual peril in situations from which there is no escape.

It's not a sea story; and Ms. Rogan is not a Joseph Conrad when it comes to describing being in a open boat in the mid Atlantic - an experience which this writer can testify changes one's perspective on things real fast. (No there was no real danger - a 16 foot motor whaleboat transferring the doctor from our destroyer escort to a merchant ship with a very sick crewmember in a large Gibraltar bound convoy in 1943.) She is, however, a talented novelist and I hope this is not the last novel from her pen.
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on January 19, 2013
The NYtimes review drew me to this book. The quality of the writing keeps the pages turning as the drama develops in this life and death struggle. The story unfolds on the brink of sinking where a mate assumes command of the inadequate and criminally overrated lifeboat. Put into the position of having to make the "Who shall live and who shall die" decisions in order try for the survival of the boat and its overloaded condition is dealt with by the author in a very powerful way transcending the weakness of the characters and their choices; including work to survive; suicide so that others may live; to murder of a pernicious commander. Finally, the trial of the culprits leads to the very basic question of the struggle of survival in terms of self-defense? The author does a very strong evaluation of these questions. Is the reader up to the transcendence into this unthinkable situation and able to make the transference into the self analytical questions of what would I do? ....All the way through getting on the jury to come to a verdict.

This book is a challenging candidate for a very energetic and thoughtful book club. It is clearly a woman's book as the responsibilities of the women passengers are put to and through the many tests of action, and reaction of the mindsets of 1914.
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on April 9, 2013
I found this book difficult to plod through. First the writer keeps us hooked as the lifeboat is adrift for 16 days(too long), and the characters struggle to survive, having to make very difficult emotional decisions about their survival. Then suddenly we find ourselves in a courtroom with Grace and two other characters on trial for murder. Really...what happened to the rescue? To the credit of the writer, she did go back to the rescue, but in my opinion didn't cover it enough from the emotional perspective of the characters. This is what they had been waiting for after 21 days at sea. When I got to the ending I thought to myself...huh, this is the ending. On a positive note, I thought the writer did a good job with the Grace character. She was complex, she portrayed her as being very smart, to being indecisive, manipulative and calculating.

I would not recommend this book.
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