The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

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The Lifeboat

Five words from the blurb: castaways, patience, survival, dilemmas, humanity

In 1914 an ocean liner sinks and it quickly becomes obvious that there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone. The passengers must battle for survival, pushing all thoughts of others aside in order to have a chance of living. Those lucky enough to gain a place on the lifeboat must then wait patiently to be rescued, enduring numerous problems as the days turn into weeks.

The first few chapters of this book were fantastic. The adrenaline fueled escape from the sinking ship made compelling reading and I loved the vivid descriptions of the open ocean. Unfortunately everything went downhill after that and as the plot became quieter I began to lose interest. It could have been a emotionally tense situation in which everyone worried about the future, but instead no-one really seemed to care if they lived or died. Most of the people on the lifeboat had lost friends and family and yet none of them seemed overly grief-stricken. It was all weirdly void of emotion and apart from the occasional prayer there was an overriding feeling of indifference to every event that took place.

Soon after I had returned to my seat, Mr Hardie opened one of the tins and introduced us to hardtack, which were rock-hard wafers approximately two inches square that could not be swallowed unless first softened with saliva or water. I held the biscuit between my lips until pieces of it began to dissolve and looked off into the not-quite-dark sky at the myriad stars that pricked the heavens, at the endlessness of the atmosphere that was the only thing vaster than the sea, and sent a prayer to whatever force of nature had arranged events thus far and asked it to preserve my Henry.

With the exception of the self-appointed lifeboat captain the rest of the characters all seemed to blur into one another. I can see that from a survival point of view it was probably helpful for the narrator, Grace, to distance herself from the competition, but it would have helped if a few of them had been brought to life. I’d heard lots about the moral dilemmas present in this book, but I’m afraid I was a little disappointed by these. Everything was a little too black/white and I didn’t have to challenge any of my preconceptions – each decision seemed obvious to me, despite the harsh outcome.

The writing was simple and flowed well, creating a light read that I whizzed through in a couple of sittings. It was compelling enough for me to keep reading and I wanted to know what happened to them, but when I reached the end I was disappointed. It was all a bit of an anti-climax.

Overall this was a fast, engaging read, but I was left craving a real survival story. This book has endorsements from both Hilary Mantel and Emma Donoghue, but it is dividing opinion. I think this makes it the perfect book club read – whether you love it or not you’ll find a lot to talk about.

Recommended to anyone who a enjoys lighter read, without dark emotions.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

It’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year! Rea’s Reading and Reviews

One of my biggest reading disappointments of the year. Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

This is a fascinating study in human behavior under the most challenging circumstances…  Rhapsody in Books


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  1. The Lifeboat- Charlotte Rogan | Lucybird's Book Blog

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