The Lifeboat, By Charlotte Rogan
Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown and Co, 2012
After Grace Winter is rescued from a lifeboat, in which she spent 21 days floating in the Atlantic Ocean, she is arrested, along with two other women, for attempted murder. The year is 1914. Grace and her newlywed husband, Henry, were travelling fist class passage from London to New York when their ocean liner, the Empress Alexandra, suffered an unexplained explosion and fire. In the chaos of the evacuation Henry makes sure Grace gets into a lifeboat. She does not know his fate while she spends 21 days at sea with 38 other survivors.
I don’t usually pick up historical fiction, but I found this premise intriguging and I was completely engaged by this book. It is a literary pageturner. The story, told from a close first person point-of-view, chronicles the survival on the lifeboat—the initial attempt to flee the fiery boat; hopes of rescue; the leadership of John Hardie, the only crew member on the boat; the dwindling food supplies; and the wearing damp crowded conditions—while also telling the story of how Grace got on the boat and what her hopes had been for life in New York with her new husband. Drama builds as the days at sea add up and tensions rise. The story explores class and gender differences of the time as some of the women in the boat begin to disagree with the survivalist choices made by the men. The writing is engaging and personal.