Saturday 25 February 2012

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Published by Virago in the UK on 29 March, The Lifeboat is Charlotte Rogan's first novel, and  has been picked as one of  Waterstone's 11 of 2012.
"I was to stand trial for my life.  I was twenty-two years old.  I had been married for ten weeks and a widow for six"

The words of Grace Winter taken from the prologue of the story of The Lifeboat.  Grace and her wealthy banker husband Henry were travelling to New York on the Empress Alexandra in the summer of 1914 when a mysterious explosion ripped through the liner.  Henry managed to secure a place in a lifeboat for Grace, but he was not so lucky and perished.
It soon becomes clear to Grace and her fellow passengers that there are too many people in the lifeboat, and this is where the story really begins.  Under the leadership of ship's crewman Hardie, the assorted travellers will spend the next three weeks at sea.  Some will live, some will die, but all of them will discover things about themselves and their companions.  Their beliefs, their principles, their morals will be tested to the limit, each and every one of them will be made to face up to the fragility of life.

Charlotte Rogan
Beginning to read a debut novel is an adventure in itself.  Often it can take a while to get used to a style of writing, the structure of a story or the mix of dialogue and description.  Not so with The Lifeboat, I was totally engrossed in this novel within the first two pages.  Charlotte Rogan's writing is splendid.  Grace is brought to life, all her innermost thoughts, and faults are exposed and beautifully drawn.  Grace is at times quite selfish, childish, unreliable and very complicated, she is also likeable, realistic and passionate.  The other passengers in the lifeboat also jump from the page, from the overbearing Mrs Grant to the mysterious and often cruel Hardie, each one of them are expertly portrayed.
The Lifeboat is a tale of survival first and foremost, but underneath this it is a complex and many layered story dealing with friendship, deception, frustration and despair.

An outstanding debut novel that had me gripped throughout.  Charlotte Rogan really is 'one to watch'.

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