This is a first book for Charlotte Rogan and she has taken a well-used theme and made a new story out of it. You might wonder about reading a book where most of the story takes place within the confines of a 37 foot life boat. Then again, you might enjoy it as I did. Rogan presents a microcosm of life in a too crowded boat with its alliances and jockeying for leadership and dominance. She presents a fascinating study of human nature and the desire to survive with moral decisions made by dominant personalities.
Grace Winter and her new husband are returning by steamship to the States on the eve of World War I. Europe has begun to disintegrate and the Atlantic crossing is a perilous one. An explosion separates husband and wife, and Grace finds herself thrust into Lifeboat 14 along with 38 others, mostly woman, under the command of John Hardie, a hardened and officious ship's officer. At first and for several days, morale is kept up by the certainty that they would soon be rescued as they were in a popular shipping lane. As hope begins to fade, they soon realize that the skiff is too crowded for all to survive. Food is running out, the seas are running higher and decisions are being made by the dominant characters. The story becomes one of morality. Who decides who is saved, who should go? Should the strongest survive or the weakest? Grace Winter is a survivor with a strong will to live. We learn of her background and what has made her the strong personality she is. The story is told through Grace's eyes and it is unclear that she is telling us the truth as her story unfolds. We do know she changes alligence between those she perceives to be the strongest, first John Hardie and then Mrs. Grant, an imposing presence.
The story of Lifeboat 14 is sandwiched between that of Grace's background story and what happens after the rescue, when she and two other women are charged with murder and put on trial. After 21 days at sea and during the subsequent trial, the reader begins to see Grace as manipulative anti-heroine, yet she is so plucky, you will find yourself rooting for her. Her philosophy seems to be, "God helps those who help themselves."
Though this tale is a dark one, it is a fascinating study of a character who is neither good or bad. Did circumstances force her to choose survival no matter the cost? Or, does she twist morality to suit herself? I recommend this novel to all readers. There is much to discuss and think about; it is an excellent choice for book groups.