Don’t start The Lifeboat right before bedtime. Charlotte Rogan’s gripping debut won’t let you turn out the light until the last page is turned, and will have you mulling over the questions of survival, sacrifice and responsibility it raises long after that.
Grace Winter has been “married for 10 weeks and a widow for over six” and is on trial for her life when The Lifeboat opens. It seems there are some questions about her actions during the two weeks she spent in a small lifeboat on the Atlantic with 38 other survivors of the sinking of the Empress Alexander. To get the events straight in her own mind, Grace begins an account of the wreck and its aftermath, blending in the story of her courtship with and brief marriage to the wealthy Henry Winter. It gradually becomes clear that this isn’t the first time Grace’s mettle has been tested: Perhaps the steely drive necessary to climb the ranks of Edwardian society is the ultimate survival skill.
Originally, the stunned passengers on Lifeboat 14 continue in the rigidly defined roles of class and gender that they held on the ship. The one seaman on board, Mr. Hardie, takes charge, rationing out the meager stores of food; the men take the oars, the women sit quietly and console one another. But as the days pass, keeping order becomes more of a challenge. Two female passengers ally against Mr. Hardie, questioning his decisions and sowing discontent among the hungry survivors. Pragmatic Grace sees the divisions forming and is determined to be on the winning side. But at what cost?
Survival stories often showcase the beauty of human nature, our ability to rise above circumstances to care for our fellow man. The Lifeboat is not that novel. What Rogan finds under our veneer of civility is pure animal nature, red in tooth and claw—in a way, the sinking of the luxurious Empress Alexandra echoes mankind’s fall from grace. “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,” writes Grace. Her dispassionate narration of harrowing events somehow makes their impact even more p[Sat Aug 23 13:24:49 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. owerful.
Though the narrative frame means that Grace’s survival is assured, the suspense of The Lifeboat never lets up, and it is a testament to Rogan’s talent that a novel that so insightfully confronts existential questions is also a complete and utter page-turner. This compelling, smart and resonant work is certain to stand as one of the year’s best debuts.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
EDWARDIAN PARTY CRASHERS
Set in England in 1912, Sadie Jones’ third novel, The Uninvited Guests, brims with sophisticated charm. The scene is an elegant old estate called Sterne, where the Torrington-Swift family is preparing to celebrate the 20th birthday of daughter Emerald. A glittering celebration has been organized, but plans go off course when a train accident occurs near Sterne, and some of the people involved arrive at the estate in search of assistance. The presence of strangers of the wrong sort (they were all traveling third class!) lowers the tone of Emerald’s special evening. A storm brings extra tension to the proceedings, as does a questionable parlor game. When Smudge Torrington, the family’s youngest daughter, launches what she calls her Great Undertaking, she caps off a night that won’t soon be forgotten. Jones has written a delightful novel that cleverly dissects the stuffy social mores of Edwardian England. Her depiction of a society and a family in flux feels picture perfect.
Charlotte Rogan’s novel, The Lifeboat, is a suspenseful and provocative debut set in 1914. Grace Winter, the story’s narrator, is 22 years old and freshly married to Henry, a man of substantial wealth. When the luxury liner carrying them from London to America is rocked by an explosion, Henry jeopardizes his own well-being to help Grace escape to a crowded lifeboat. On board, Grace joins forces with John Hardie, a seasoned sailor who coldheartedly refuses to rescue other survivors from the water. Grace, as it turns out, makes it through this nightmare only to face another kind of catastrophe: She and two other survivors face criminal charges when they return. Rogan has woven a knotty tale about survival, self-sacrifice and human motivation with a complex figure at its center. Grace is at once canny and somewhat naÃ¯ve, a woman with a sharp wit and an iron will. Rogan, a new author who possesses the narrative instincts of an old pro, writes about the natural world and human nature with equal facility.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
A finalist for the National Book Award, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain takes on the media and the military as it tells the story of Bravo Squad, a celebrated Army unit, and one of its heroes, Billy Lynn. Caught in a firefight in Iraq that’s documented by an embedded Fox News team, the members of Bravo Squad are instant heroes. Back in the states, they embark on a Victory Tour that takes them to Texas Stadium and a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys football game. The Bravo boys experience mixed emotions in the midst of this media blitz. Billy recalls comrades who died overseas even as he’s distracted by a Cowboys cheerleader. The celebratory moment is further diluted by the prospect of a return to Iraq. Expertly crafted in exuberant prose, this intelligent, funny novel offers an inside look at the soldier’s life while questioning the nature of patriotism and celebrity. A late bloomer in the literary world (he published his first book, a short story collection, at the age of 48), Fountain proves himself a writer to watch with this timely novel.
An explosion on an ocean liner gliding across the Atlantic has dire consequences for 22-year-old newlywed Grace Winter. Suddenly, she's a widow, and because the lifeboats had been filled to overflowing, with people fighting (sometimes unsuccessfully) to climb aboard and stay there, she's also on trial for murder. A great book-club pick--and just in time for the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.[Page 51]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Rogan's elegantly written debut draws the reader into the confidences of Grace Winter, a 22-year-old newlywed then widow fighting for her life. In 1914, during a transatlantic crossing, the ship carrying Grace and her husband suffers a crippling explosion and begins to sink. Henry secures a place for his wife on an overcrowded lifeboat, but once among the debris and wreckage, the survivors realize that the boat is unstable. Some passengers will have to die so others can live. The castaways begin to battle the sea and the weather while engaging in a psychological battle of wills against one another. As life and death loom on the crest of every wave, it is unclear who will turn on whom and what will happen to this collection of desperate humanity. VERDICT Within the framework of a simple narrative that draws readers in on waves of fear and desperation, this stunning and suspenseful tale of survival offers a terrifying vision of human nature. Rogan's portrait of a protagonist who considers time, memory, and the loss of innocence in her shifting ruminations is unforgettable. [See Prepub Alert, 10/14/11.]--Ron Samul, New London, CT[Page 80]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Set at the beginning of WWI, Rogan's debut follows 22-year-old Grace Winter, a newlywed, newly minted heiress who survives a harrowing three weeks at sea following the sinking of her ocean liner and the disappearance of her husband, Henry. Safe at home in the U.S., Grace and two other survivors are put on trial for their actions aboard the under-built, overloaded lifeboat. At sea, as food and water ran out, and passengers realized that some among them would die, questions of sacrifice and duty arose. Rogan interweaves the trial with a harrowing day-by-day story of Grace's time aboard the lifeboat, and circles around society's ideas about what it means to be human, what responsibilities we have to each other, and whether we can be blamed for choices made in order to survive. Grace is a complex and calculating heroine, a middle-class girl who won her wealthy husband through smalltime subterfuge. Her actions on the boat are far from faultless, and her memory of them spotty. By refusing to judge her, Rogan leaves room for readers to decide for themselves. A complex and engrossing psychological drama. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Apr. 10)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC