The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The book in one sentence:
When survival is at stake, anything goes.

Synopsis of The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: 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.

My two cents: A survival story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I read it in practically one sitting because of the amazing pacing and the various revelations throughout ... I just wanted to find out what would happen to Grace!

The book opens with Grace on trial for murder, which I found  intriguing since the book was supposed to be about a group of surviving passengers of a sunken ship, kind of like the Titanic.

The story shifts from the trial to Grace's recollections written in her diary, as suggested by her lawyers, so as to bring clarity to the events. Did she commit murder or not? Did she conspire with the other women in the group, women also on trial for the very crime that Grace is accused of?

As Grace relives each day on that lifeboat, we learn how Grace met her husband Henry who had flouted all social conventions to marry Grace, whose initial prospects of a better life were to take on a governess position (remember that the milieu of the book is 1914 and the place of women and social status were high on people's minds).

Initial days on the lifeboat were of shock, panic and impatience at rescue. A natural leader and the only sailorly person onboard, Hardie, came to the fore, organizing people on the overfilled lifeboat, directing people to bail water, collect water when raining, food rationing, and other such practical matters. People played their necessary parts for the well-being of the group.

As the prospect of rescue grows dimmer with each passing day, supplies dwindle, and the natural elements of stormy weather hit the group ... paranoia sets in. Cliques and alliances are formed. Even how Grace secured a spot on the lifeboat in the first place comes under scrutiny. A rather cruel power dynamics plays itself out and unthinkable sacrifices are made ... this is the survival of the fittest, after all.

Was murder indeed committed? Is getting out alive from the lifeboat only going to condemn Grace and these women to jail for life?

Verdict: This is a fast-paced page-turner which showcases how desperation for survival brings out the basest in even the most human person.

First lines: Today I shocked the lawyers, and it surprised me, the effect I could have on them. A thunderstorm arose as we were leaving the court for lunch. They dashed for cover under the awning of a nearby shop to save their suits from getting wet while I stood in the street and opened my mouth to it, transported back and seeing again that other rain as it came to us in gray sheets.

Last line: If I had not felt so sorry for him, I would have laughed out loud at his desire to pin everything down, at his naivete, at his childish desire to know.

I received this book in a giveaway at I'd Rather be Reading at the Beach. Thanks so much! 


  1. I've heard other good things about this book. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read it because it sounded very Titanic-ish. But from your description of the courtroom drama and the reflections back to the lifeboat, I'm very intrigued by the story now! Thanks for peaking my interest!

    1. I didn't know that the book was Titanic-ish in the beginning. It is NOTHING like it. It reminds me somewhat of Lord of the Flies -- take away all the trappings of "civilized life" ... see how everything unravels!

  2. Good review - I wasn't sure if the fact we know she survives right from page one, would take some of the tension away but once I got into the actual lifeboat events, I completely forgot about the opening scene.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall