In the summer of 1914 the Empress Alexandra sinks; this elegant ocean liner suffers from a mysterious explosion and all the passengers scramble for safety. Henry Winters managers to secure a place on a lifeboat for his new bride Grace but when the people on the lifeboat soon realise they are over capacity the real struggle for survival begins.
The Lifeboat is an elegant and thrilling novel with many complex issues weaved into it. For any to live, some must die but the hard choice of survival can be taken too far. At what point does the struggle for survival turn into manslaughter and can you really live with your actions. With personality clashes between characters like John Hardie and Mrs Grant, this book is just a stimulating and thought provoking read.
My first thought with this book was that this was just playing out a novel based on ecologist Garrett Hardin’s metaphor for resource distribution. Hardin’s metaphor describes a lifeboat bearing 50 people, with room for ten more. The lifeboat is in an ocean surrounded by a hundred swimmers. The “ethics” of the situation stem from the dilemma of whether swimmers should be taken aboard the lifeboat. But when I read this book there was more of a focus on the moral dilemma, in regards to an overcrowded lifeboat.
This book is a highly emotional novel and while you do get some character development, this mainly focuses on Grace and her take on the situation at hand. I must admit to hating Mrs Grant throughout the entire book; she was bossy and always plotting against the others. While John Hardie seems to always try to do what was best for the people in the lifeboat and he seemed strong and determined; it was interesting to see how the pressure got to him.
Another aspect this book dealt with was the one of social class; the sinking of the Empress Alexandra brought people from all different social backgrounds onto the lifeboat. So it is interesting when they need to throw people off the lifeboat for survival how important class is to the people wanting to survive; as if that would be have importance at a time like this. I think Charlotte Rogan did a great job setting the novel in 1914; you have the sinking of the Titanic not too long before in 1912 and the time and age is perfect to look at the issue of social class as well as morals.
The Lifeboat is a stunning debut novel from Charlotte Rogan; while it could use a bit more development with some of the characters, this booked worked well with exploring the issues it set out to explore. I think Rogan has a worthy example of well crafted contemporary fiction, with the dilemmas the characters face and the pace the novel keeps. I really am impressed with the way this novel turned out and I hope Charlotte Rogan has an equally impressive sophomore novel.