I found The Lifeboat (2012) by Charlotte Rogan when I stumbled on (or Facebook shoved in my face) the Huffington Post’s list of 21 Books From the Last Five Years That Every Woman Should Read. Of the eight books I’d already read on that list, I’d really liked seven of them, so it inspired me to try out some more.
After surviving 21 days in an overcrowded lifeboat lost at sea, Grace Winter is on trial for murder. Recently married into wealth and almost as quickly widowed, Grace describes the tension and stress on the lifeboat from her own perspective, the beginnings of her relationship with her husband, Henry, and the details of her sensational trial. Grace is not an entirely dependable narrator. Between her limited knowledge, personal interest, her trauma, and her hunger and thirst, she is far from the omniscient narrator we can often enjoy in fiction. In addition, she isn’t even always a likable character. She can be self-centered and manipulative, but her strength, adaptability, and willingness to do anything to survive is also admirable.
The enigmatic Grace and the mystery of the book pushed me to finish it without delay. As I read, I needed to find out what happened in the boat for Grace to be tried for murder, I also wondered what would happen at the trial. More mysteries appeared as I read, and I finished the book very quickly.
Perhaps my biggest problem with this book is that I wasn’t given enough information to fully understand the character’s motivations. My favorite books usually contain characters that I am so in tune with that no matter how much I disagree with their life choices, I can imagine no other way they would act. In The Lifeboat, however, there were a number of times where I had no idea why people were acting they way they were. I understand that because we are limited to Grace’s point of view, we cannot fully know what is going on in anyone else’s head. I am also sure that Rogan intentionally left a number of points open to interpretation, which does make me think about the book more, even if it doesn’t make me love it more. In the end, though, I read it with interest and I continue to think about it. You can’t ask for much more than that–except maybe answers to all my spoilery questions below.
After finishing The Lifeboat, I am left with so many questions that were never answered, which I found rather frustrating. Did Grace really have a good relationship with Henry, or did she convince herself that she loved him because she needed him? Did Henry lie to Grace about sending a wire to his mother announcing their wedding? Did Grace end up getting along with Henry’s mother? Were Mrs. Grant and/or Hannah lesbians and did that have anything to do with the court’s final decision? Grace was able to portray herself as a typical woman, after all. Why was Grace so fascinated with the way Hannah was looking at her? Was Hannah really looking at Grace in the way Grace described? Why? Why did Hannah and Grace go after Hardie so strongly? Was Hardie lying about the SOS going out? Did Hardie steal the gold? What was in the box Hardie carried with him? Why was the box so important to Hannah and Mrs. Grant? What did Henry say to Hardie on the ship? Did Hardie’s death really help the rest of the lifeboat survive? Did Hardie die?
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