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The Lifeboat: A Novel [Paperback]

Charlotte Rogan
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 8 2013
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 Grace 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 has exceeded 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.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

When two local yokels rob the First Wisconsin Bank of Winosha, part-time teller and town librarian Turner Hastings seizes the opportunity to pull her own heist, dumping the contents of the bank president's safety deposit box into her purse before going on the run. No-nonsense FBI Special Agent John MacKinnon is on the case, though this pursuit proves to be more frolic-and-giggle than cloak-and-dagger. Turner isn't really a thief, she's just determined to prove that Calvin Hyman, the politically ambitious bank president, has been embezzling from the bank for years—and not, as Hyman has testified, her late uncle Rusty. Turner's days on the lam assume a Thelma and Louise quality—in which Louise is a rescued Great Dane—as she roams Wisconsin's back roads in a borrowed Chevy pickup, playing cat and mouse games with MacKinnon. Keeping touch by phone, the cop and crook become increasingly intrigued by each other; soon, however, the plucky librarian is in the sights of another, more dangerous opponent, and MacKinnon finds his professional demeanor slipping as his role shifts from man hunter to bodyguard. Lively humor, an enterprising heroine, creative plot twists and a nail-biting finale make Harper's debut a worthwhile romp. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Impressive, harrowing first novel...[Grace] narrates the book with panache - and a good dose of unreliability...Rogan writes viscerally about the desperate condition of the castaway...But it's her portrait of Grace, who is by turns astute, conniving, comic and affecting, that drive the book...As Rogan proves with this indelible character, there's a profound truth and even beauty in Grace's degree of self-loyalty."—Sarah Towers, New York Times Book Review

"In her assured debut, Rogan has written a layered and provocative tale of survival and impossible decisions. But her biggest achievement is the disarmingly demure yet fiercely shrewd Grace, a narrator as fascinating and unreliable as they come."—Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly

"Rogan has written an eerie, powerful debut you'll want to race through, but try to resist the urge. A slower read reveals a psychological depth that'll leave you thinking."—Helen Rogan, People

"[Grace Winter is] a gratifyingly complex character who narrates this dazzling psychological drama."—Wall Street Journal

"A superb first book...a cunning narrator...A psychological horror story...Rogan paints a vivid picture first of grimly necessary heartlessness...The Lifeboat is a tremendously fast-paced read...in a tantalizing turn, Rogan leaves it up to the reader to decide who deserves to walk the proverbial plank, stirring a diabolically fun internal debate. Rogan is a novelist on her maiden voyage, but she steers The Lifeboat with a remarkably assured hand."—Mary Pols, Time

"Rogan manages to distill this drama about what's right and wrong when the answer means life or death into a gripping, confident first novel...Other novels have examined the conscience and guilt of a survivor among the dead, but few tales are as thoughtful and compelling as this."—Christina Ianzito, Washington Post

"Beautifully constructed first novel...Rogan crafts a harrowing, suspenseful tale of survival...Grace is a bold and compelling creation, a female protagonist whose humanity is revealed not through her vulnerability but by a cool pragmatism that could have made her repugnant in the hands of a less skilled, sympathetic writer...The Lifeboat raises these forever fascinating questions without moral posturing or sentimentality."—Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today

"A detailed and chokingly graphic novel...Rogan's vivid, aching detail is delivered through Grace's voice. But something else comes through as well, and this, rather than the story itself, is the novel's undermining and deeply unsettling core...The story [Grace] feeds us is mesmerizing, unquestionably believable for the most part, yet poisoned even in its most casual details. But we don't know just where the poison lodges...Rogan has done something more complex. The veil remains; only hints come through; enough to leave the reader - intrigued, yes, and also frustrated - in doubt somewhere short of certainty. And indeed the writer has performed a fictional equivalent to a phenomenon in sub-atomic physics: that observing a phenomenon can make it slip away and alter."—Richard Eder, Boston Globe

"The Lifeboat is both an enthralling story of survival at sea and a novel that is satisfyingly concerned with the characters of its own storytelling...[The Lifeboat] bristles throughout with moral and historical dilemmas that arise from events in the text, and will provide argumentative fodder for book clubs...One hell of a debut."—Jonathan Raban, New York Review of Books

"Riveting...the narrative stays focused mostly on [Grace's] experience in the boat, the tension deliciously building as the passengers grow hungrier, thirstier, and more desperate."—Karen Holt, O, the Oprah Magazine

"Charlotte Rogan uses a deceptively simply narrative of shipwreck and survival to explore our all-too-human capacity for self-deception."—J. M. Coetzee

"The Lifeboat traps the reader in a story that is exciting at the literal level and brutally moving at the existential: I read it in one go."—Emma Donoghue, author of Room

"What a splendid book. . . . I can't imagine any reader who looks at the opening pages wanting to put the book down. . . . It's so refreshing to read a book that is ambitious and yet not tricksy, where the author seems to be in command of her material and really on top of her game. It's beautifully controlled and totally believable."—Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall

"The Lifeboat is a spellbinding and beautifully written novel, one that will keep readers turning pages late into the night. This is storytelling at its best, and I was completely absorbed from beginning to end."—Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried, In the Lake of the Woods, July, July

"The Lifeboat is a richly rewarding novel, psychologically acute and morally complex. It can and should be read on many levels, but it is first and foremost a harrowing tale of survival. And what an irresistible tale it is; terrifying, intense, and, like the ocean in which the shipwrecked characters are cast adrift, profound."—Valerie Martin, author of Property and The Confessions of Edward Day

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting study in personalities June 5 2012
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Reason for Reading: I enjoy survival-at-sea stories and this immediately brought to my mind both the Titanic and the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name.

I enjoyed this book. It is short and a quick read and yet I found it didn't live up to my expectations or perhaps its full potential. I found the plot very predictable and kept waiting for a twist or shock to come into play but every time anything of consequence happened it was already something I expected to happen. I kept reading though because I couldn't believe that was all there was to the story and that some startling reveal was going to made at any point, but it failed to come. The story followed its expected outcome and ended quietly on that note.

As stated I did enjoy the story; it is an interesting study in personalities when they are confined together in peril and how they will react. Grace herself, I found to be an unlikeable character from the beginning. She is rather cold and calculating in her motives even before the shipwreck. She is an unreliable narrator and yet her true character easily shows through which is one point which makes the book so predictable. I haven't read any other reviews of this book yet but I have a feeling that this is a book some people will absolutely love, while others not so.
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3.0 out of 5 stars so so May 14 2013
By Butsie
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not a lot of plot in this book. There could have been a lot more character development. Some unanswered questions.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating! July 6 2012
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Story Description:

Little, Brown And Company|April 3, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-316-18590-5

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, in 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 Review:

The Lifeboat is a page-turning account of 21 days adrift in the Atlantic Ocean narrated by 22-year-old Grace Winter. The lifeboat is overloaded and some people are going to have to die, jumping overboard to their deaths to drown in the sea. Asking for volunteers there is utter silence so straws are drawn and those 3 who choose the shortest must go overboard. Who could feel right about playing God in this way?

The personalities of the men and women in the lifeboat are as different as night and day. There are those who are trouble makers, those who are afraid of their own shadow, those that feel `they' must be in charge, and those that vacillate between the combination of learning to go with the flow so as not to be centered out by anyone.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  392 reviews
135 of 152 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What was the point? April 12 2012
By JLF - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While I had hoped for a more intense story about the dynamics of people unknown to each other being placed in peril on a lifeboat, this turned out to be a strangely dispassionate narrative from only one person's perspective. Because that person was selfishly passive about her circumstances, and so easily manipulated if she thought there was something in it for her, we learn almost nothing about the other passengers. Everything is filtered through Grace's shifting perceptions. Grace is a seriously flawed person, and that usually offers literary opportunity for growth. But Grace's flaws were with her before the lifeboat, remained with her throughout the time on the sea, and her trial, and she came out the other side essentially unchanged. There is a lot of discussion of the ethics and morality of lifeboat survival, mixed with strong undercurrents of the gender politics of a century ago. None of this gave life to any of the characters and I found no one to root for or have any serious curiousity about. There were many loose ends left unresolved, showing them to be no more than red herrings and filler. The book ended with a shrug.
130 of 150 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear The Decks -- It's A Winner! March 18 2012
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Clear the decks and call in sick; once you begin reading this riveting this debut book, it's going to be hard to come up for air.

The narrator, aptly named Grace, appears on the first pages and right away, we know a few important plot points. We know that Grace survived on a lifeboat after her ship - like the Titanic two years prior - goes down. We also know that she is now on trial for a murder that took place during the ensuing ordeal. But here's what we don't know: how reliable is Grace as the tale-teller? Is she coldly capable of taking whatever actions are necessary to survive? Or is she simply a shell-shocked bystander, susceptible to the slightest suggestion?

In flashbacks, we learn about the harsh reality of lifeboat passenger survival, under the direction of one of the sea fellows named Hardie. The name is likely no accident: like Thomas Hardy's characters, Hardie and the rest of the survivors are overwhelmingly and overpoweringly in the grip of fate and chance. "None of us are worth a spit," Grace ruminates. "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."

Indeed, as the characters are forced to endure worse and worse conditions - decreasing rations of food and water, the unexpected squall, the weakening of body and spirit, the emotional horrors of wondering about loved ones - they also form alliances that are crucial in determining who will live and who will die. It quickly becomes evident that some must be sacrificed for the majority to live since the lifeboat bears more people than it can safely carry.

There is an elegiac overlay in this tale: Hardie is at first regarded as all-knowing and godlike. In a Bible parable, he is able to come up with a feast of raw fish and water to feed the hungry. But as hope fades and order falls apart, the one-time prayers become "decidedly pagan, a prayer of appeasement to the sea..." And the sea becomes "as murky and cold as Satan's heart." Not unlike Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, the journey is not just into the deepest waters but into the deepest recesses of one's own mind; knowledge of the human condition is hard-earned and sobering.

Once I began this page-turner, it was virtually impossible to put it down. The theme weaves around that crucial question: during the worst of ordeals, is it possible for a person to be both alive and innocent? Are those who are left standing survivors...or murderers? Or put another way, what would each of us do to stay alive? Thanks to NetGalley and Little Brown for a galley for my Kindle; the opinions are entirely my own.
45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Men and women, all in the same boat March 19 2012
By Keris Nine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For the most part, Charlotte Rogan's The Lifeboat is much like any many other books and films (Hitchcock's Lifeboat inevitably comes to mind) that deal with the desperate lengths people living in close quarters will be driven to in order to survive a catastrophic event, as well as exploring how different characters and personalities react when pushed to and beyond their limits of endurance. The vast majority of Rogan's novel explores the dynamic between what initially starts out as 39 people over the course of three weeks on the high seas following the sinking of their transatlantic liner, the Empress Alexandra, in 1914. What introduces an element of suspense and opens a wider context on events however is the fact that the narrator, Grace Winter, is writing her account in preparation for a court case, so we know that there are survivors from the wreck, but also that some serious drama has occurred over these three weeks that needs to be accounted for in a court of law.

That's a good enough hook, and Rogan's writing is strong and vivid in its account of the struggle for survival, the conditions on the over-populated lifeboat, and of the tensions and psychological states of those on board, and the conflict that inevitably ensues. The Lifeboat then is a story about survival, but the question of how to survive extends beyond the three weeks at sea, and the novel has other ambitions and implications that relate to the period - the First World War has just broken out - as well as to the roles assigned to men and women, how they are expected to behave and how, when pushed to a crisis, those roles are about to change.

The split between men and women is most pronounced by the divisions that take place on the lifeboat, where eventually a battle for dominance arises between Mr Hardie, the only crew member on board and the only person with experience of the seas, and Mrs Grant. The decisions that have to be made for survival are difficult and there are no easy answers, requiring sacrifice on the part of some of the men in the overcrowded boat. The means by which these decisions are carried out however (this is a period before women even had the right to vote), and the motivations behind them (there are suspicions that Hardie is hiding something of value on board) are questioned, particularly by the strong women on board. There are, it seems to me, particularly with this being set at the very start of the war, other social implications about the nature of sacrifice and survival in a war context and how it applies to men and women.

This is reflected also in how events play out back in New York, around the trial, where Grace works over in her mind what exactly happened, but she also questions her own role in events, as a young woman who has just been married to a rich banker, Henry, now believed lost with the sinking of the ship. Inevitably, particularly in the extreme situation in which she has been placed, she is uncertain of her own role in events and how much of it has been determined by the will of others. This clearly has wider relevance and, considering Grace's past before she married Henry and the circumstances in which she married him, it makes Grace a rather more complex figure and answers consequently are not so easy to come by. The Lifeboat is then a vivid and dramatic piece of writing on the level of a high-seas battle for survival, but taking in the moral and social implications of the time, the novel has other intriguing depths that give the reader a lot more to think about, raising questions about the nature of men and women and whether the roles they are expected to play are fundamentally any different today.
44 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Study of Human Nature May 20 2012
By Ethan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In The Lifeboat, author Charlotte Rogan explores the actions of a group of people who are forced to survive on a small lifeboat and the repercussions of this event. The premise seems simple enough, but in the dexterous hands of Rogan, the story takes on a larger life that invites readers to join in on this fascinating journey.

The year is 1914, and newly wed Grace is traveling with her husband, Henry, across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the luxurious ocean liner, The Empress Alexandra. After a sudden explosion, the passengers frantically evacuate the sinking ship, doing whatever it takes to secure a spot in a lifeboat. As Lifeboat 14 begins its descent into the ocean, it stops just long enough for Henry to put Grace and seaman John Hardie onto the boat. Hardie, who clearly has the most experience with all things nautical, takes lead of the small boat, navigating through the debris, and coldly passing other passengers who struggle to stay afloat in the sea. Hardie is the only one aboard the lifeboat who understands that the small vessel is already overcrowded and to take in even one more passenger would be suicide.

As the days pass, the passengers all follow the lead of Hardie, who has assigned tasks for each of the evacuees. They all seem to believe that despite their misfortune, help will arrive soon. After several days, the solitude of the sea begins to take its toll on the passengers. Hunger and thirst muddy their minds, a looming storm threatens to sink their boat, and different opinions threaten to tear apart the unified effort of the passengers.

The novel is told from the point of view of Grace who is writing a journal of her time on the lifeboat. We learn, through many flashbacks, that Grace is currently on trial for murder. As the novel progresses, we gain further insights into the events that took place on the boat, and are forced to face the question of how far a person should go to further their survival.

Being the debut novel from Rogan, I was very impressed with the strength and clarity of her story telling. The suspense of both the struggle to survive in the ocean and to clear her name in a murder trial kept the pages turning and my attention fully held. Rogan descriptions offer subtle glimpses into human nature and the desire to live. Despite the fantastic build up, I felt a bit let down by the ending. It seemed as if these philosophical ideas about survival were leading to some kind of revelation. Instead we get a resolution to the plot with no emotional punch. That being said, I think this novel is worth the read for that build up alone. Perhaps the lack of a real answer to the questions that come up, in this situation, perfectly captures the reality of the event. Either way, this novel forced me to conjure ideas about life, death, and the will to survive.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh April 28 2012
By J. Carroll - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Book would have benefitted from tighter editing. I first thought the way the story meanders was to illustrate that the narrator was unreliable and seeking always to frame what was happening in the light most favorable her. That may have been the case but, if so, the technique, and really, the narrator, too, grew tiresome.
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