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Women and Children First?,
This review is from: The Lifeboat (Hardcover)
The Lifeboat is another choice from Waterstones Eleven, eleven debut novels which they have earmaked for commercial success and critical acclaim in 2012. This is my fourth read from the selection and yet another one which I thoroughly enjoyed, even on a par with The Snow Child which is high praise indeed.
Set in 1914, most of the action, or should that read "inaction", takes place on a lifeboat stranded in the Atlantic Ocean following the sinking of the Empress Alexandra five days after her depature from Liverpool. Our narrator, newly wed Grace Winter, has written an account of her experiences during three long and exhausting weeks spent aboard the overladen vessel - an account which could once more mean the difference between life and death for her as she now stands trial for murder. Some of her fellow passengers didn't survive - some jumped and some may have been pushed but Grace's involvement is rather unclear and she isn't the most reliable of narrators. What is crystal clear though is that the reader will question what he or she would do in a similar situation, how far would we go to survive?
This is one of those novels you will want all your friends to read so you can discuss it afterwards and share your views. Underneath the deceptively simple prose lies a multilayered entity which sucks in the reader from the opening pages. Grace is an interesting character, flawed and human but does her devious streak extend to murder? Lifeboat No 14 is predominantly female with 30 women, 8 men and 1 child and half of the men end up perishing in the ocean. The whole power struggle between Hardie (the ship's crewman) and Mrs Grant mirrors women's struggle for emancipation and Grace tries her best to steer a middle course between the two. However when they're back on terra firma facing a murder accusation, it's back to normality, to a male dominated society so everything changes.
Charlotte Rogan wrote the first draft of The Lifeboat 10 years ago and she has been writing whilst raising triplets so she has had little in the way of spare time. I, for one, am glad that she decided to revisit this novel and set it loose on us readers - grab your lifejackets or at least have plenty of snacks to sustain you as you will be enthralled by this compelling debut