Thursday, May 3, 2012
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
I'm currently in the midst of reading two enormously fat books, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (801 pages, including endnotes and appendices); and A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (1021 pages, which includes an enormous appendix at the end with character listings). It's probably a really bad idea to be simultaneously reading two doorstoppers at the same time, but that's what I'm into at the moment.
And so, when this book arrived on the library's hold shelf, how could I resist a quick contemporary read? Only 275 pages, and the page size is small and the type is not. Last Friday was a city holiday in San Antonio, so I read half at lunchtime and the rest before bed, a very quick read, and I found it very interesting and thought-provoking -- excellent for a book group.
In the prologue, we learn that Grace Winter is on trial for murder, but at first we don't know who she may have killed, or what happened. During the trial, her attorneys advise her to write a diary, since they're considering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The book that follows is her diary as she remembers the events.
According to the diary, in the year 1914, Grace was 22 and had eloped to England with her wealthy husband Henry After the Great War breaks out, Grace and Henry book passage on a luxury liner called the Empress Alexandria; midway across the Atlantic, an explosion sinks the ship. Grace is the last passenger to get on her lifeboat, which holds 38 other people. The diary recalls the events that led up to the shipwreck, and how they manage to survive the terrible time that follows.
I found this book really interesting, and I liked how the author interwove the story of what happened day by day in the lifeboat with the background of the characters. Of course it's all from Grace's point of view. What really struck me is how the different personalities began to interact in such a stressful situation; how people react when under such terrible duress. It reminded me both of the TV show Survivor, and Lord of the Flies. I'm beginning to suspect this book's publication date was deliberately planned to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking.
And oddly enough, I read four books in a row which involved boats and ships -- after this one, I started a young adult book called Ship Breaker for the teen book group; plus both Our Mutual Friend and A Dance with Dragons have characters who are going on ships. So I've been inundated lately with sailing vocabulary. I don't know if I planned it this way subconsciously, or it's some kind of sign that I'm about to go on a boat trip somewhere -- or maybe it's some kind of warning, since an awful lot of situations in these four books don't end well! I'm pretty much landlocked in south Texas, and I haven't booked any cruises lately. I'm beginning to think this is a good thing.