Moral Turpitude Abounds on the Open Seas of “Lifeboat”

the-lifeboat-review_320Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel Lifeboat is a psychological look at what happens to a group of shipwrecked passengers trying to survive in a lifeboat. We know from the start that narrator Grace—along with at least two other women—have survived three weeks in a lifeboat; but we also know that something occurred on that boat that now has Grace on trial for murder. As Grace writes a journal for her lawyers depicting the events in that lifeboat, you learn why she is on trial and must decide for yourself whether or not she is guilty.

The dynamics between the people on the boat are fascinating, especially when the women begin to gang up against the men. But as Grace’s memory begins to fail around certain events, how much can we trust her as a narrator? And how much blame can really be placed on her for the terrible events that occur on the boat?

Grace will also have you wondering what you would do in such a situation. Would you be strong-willed enough to push away drowning people trying to enter your already full lifeboat? Could you decide who must leave the boat to save it from sinking during a storm? Could you willfully manipulate your fellow survivors to rise against the leader who may or may not have your best interests at heart? While these situations will most likely never affect you (this does take place in 1914, after all), it is still interesting to think about how much your morals will affect your choices in these life-or-death situations.

Rogan’s easy-going writing style allows you to get engrossed in Grace’s story. The one-sided look at the moral turpitude in that lifeboat will have you yearning for perspectives from other characters, but the beauty in Lifeboat is that we never get that. We must rely on Grace’s imperfect memory to infer what really happened and assign blame. The story will pull you in and leave you yearning for more about the lifeboat, although it has a completely satisfactory ending. With a debut like this (and with the high-profile authors who gave her high praise on the back of the novel), I’m eager to see what else Rogan will write in the near future.

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