In the Spotlight: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The Lifeboat is a daring and adventurous novel set just before the First World War. It begins in a courtroom, where an enigmatic young woman named Grace Sachs is on trial; in flashback, we learn why…

A powerful tale set at the turn of the twentieth century, The Lifeboat is the story of Grace Sachs, an enigmatic young woman whose life is forever altered when the ocean liner on which she is honeymooning mysteriously explodes. Her husband secures her a place on a lifeboat with a group of strangers, but they soon realise their boat is over capacity and that they must reduce their numbers in order to survive.

Over the course of three perilous weeks the passengers plot, scheme, gossip and console and betray one another while sitting inches apart.

The Lifeboat is a page-turning story of moral dilemmas but also the moving and memorable story of Grace’s determination to fight for her place – in the boat and in the world.

What people are saying about The Lifeboat:

From The Independent: The surface question of Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel is: what would you do in order to survive?

The idea that in any story there’s a true version of events is an illusion. All narrators are unreliable. That’s what happens when you tell stories, fictional or real. Our memory is faulty: it can only remember itself. What we recall is not the (illusory) truth but the story as we last told it, even if the only person we told it to was ourself. Read more…

From the New York Daily News: Grace Winter, a beautiful young woman, is facing murder charges. The man she and two other women killed seemingly saved her life. Ship’s officer John Hardie had seized control of the lifeboat after the luxury liner the Empress Alexandra sank, and days later, most of the 39 passengers were alive though still captive of the boundless sea.

Missing were the men he forced to jump overboard to lighten the load of the overcrowded lifeboat. The women feared there would be more sacrifices. At least, that’s what their lawyers will argue in court. Read more…

From The Guardian: Grace Winter – new bride, new widow, apparently unscathed after 21 days drifting at sea in an overcrowded lifeboat – is a survivor. And survivors, as we all know, can be the most dangerous people of all. Charlotte Rogan’s terrific debut novel opens with a bang, when the ship carrying newlyweds Grace and Henry back to New York after the outbreak of war in Europe suffers an explosion and sinks. Somehow, Grace is squeezed into a departing lifeboat, captained by ship’s officer Mr Hardie, and along with a motley crew of passengers, mostly female, they push away from the wreckage, beating off drowning men and beseeching infants as they go.

Grace’s memories of those extraordinary, otherworldly three weeks – the crush, the dwindling rations, the many deaths – are thrown into tense question by the trial for murder that awaits her on their return. “You survived out there in the boat, now you have to survive in here,” says her lawyer. “And don’t make the mistake of thinking the situation is any different now.” Read more…

From the New York Times: Charlotte Rogan does not have the impeccable résumé of the typical precocious and talked-about writer. She has not attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, or lived in Brooklyn, or been chosen as one of “5 Under 35”— or under any age, for that matter.

Yet she is on the verge of literary success with a critically praised debut novel, “The Lifeboat,” a harrowing tale that Ms. Rogan began shaping more than a decade ago while she was living in Dallas raising her triplets, who are now in college. More than two years ago, Ms. Rogan pulled the manuscript out of a drawer, practically on a whim, and sent it to an agent, who put it in the hands of an editor at Little, Brown & Company. A few months after her 57th birthday, Ms. Rogan signed her first book contract. Read more…

Review in The Spectator calls The Lifeboat “a strangely wonderful book, like Moby Dick retold by Dorothy L. Sayers.” Click to read the entire review, but be warned that it is full of spoilers.

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