The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
In the Lifeboat we have another unreliable narrator – how I do love these unreliable narrators – Grace, writing a diary of events on the advice of her lawyer. Grace along with two others is standing accused of murder. The diary is to be an account of the events of 3 weeks in the lifeboat of the title. These women are three of the survivors, rescued after the sinking of the transatlantic liner they were travelling on. The story is set just before the commencement of World War One.
How has it come to a murder charge? Grace presents herself as a refined and gentile lady therefore at the start the account it would appear she will garner sympathy for her plight. The other two women, charged along with her, suspect she will escape the charge because of this refinement.
Charlotte Rogan unfolds the story carefully and precisely, conveying the initial terror of abandoning ship in the darkness of an Atlantic night, the horror of witnessing the more unfortunate drowning around them and the despair of the knowledge that as the ship goes down loved ones are still aboard, So well does she do this one can hear the cries.
The 39 survivors on board the lifeboat appear to be lucky in that they are commanded by one of the ships officers Mr Hardie, he may be taciturn but he does seem to know what he is doing. However to ensure their safety he does transgress the occupant’s civilian ideas of morality on the first night, thus setting the scene for the later increasing tensions and mistrust. Tensions which lead to his supposed murder by the three charged.
It is an unfolding story of the stripping down of humanity’s social behaviour and morality to the very basic of life. Survival. Survival which results in the forming of cliques and alliances among each other, mostly divided along gender lines. There are friendships made and broken, enmities and suspicion. This is not a tale of everyone pulling together.
Why would Mr Hardie be killed? Surely he is the only one on board who can ensure their survival? He is a tough character, he is revealed to be not only manipulative but hard as nails as he seeks to control the dispirit company of survivors on board. He forces them to face moral dilemmas in the name of survival. Who should survive? How should they survive?
Like Grace, Mr Hardie is hiding secrets and his motives are brought into question amid the gradually casting off of people from the boat.
What of Grace? her unfolding account which plots not only her remembrances pre sinking but the increasing tensions among the survivors begin to reveal she is not all she pretends to be. Not so gentile, not so fragile, a core of steel runs through her. I didn’t really ‘take’ to her but I suspect one is not really expected too. Her thoughts are fragmented and reveal hidden depths but do not ever truly reveal her as a person.
This is a tale of dark thoughts and actions as each survivor struggles with moral decisions. One has to imagine how one would behave in a similar situation, there are the good, the bad and the in-betweeners – which would we be? A very interesting read and I for one enjoyed it very much.
angler fish by Vlad Gerasimov