When writing of any claustrophobic situation, three factors are key.
- The characters must be multi-dimensional.
- The writing must be deep and psychologically detailed.
- The lack of various settings must be countered by an unputdownable plot.
The lifeboat drifts
Other reviewers of ‘The Lifeboat’ have indicated that it offers personal insights and rich characterisation, and that it is ‘unputdownable’. I desperately wanted to love this book as the setting is fascinating. The book is mainly set in a lifeboat following the disastrous failing of a ship on its way to New York. The lifeboat drifts, at first one of many, then later, apparently alone.
A retrospective perspective
The vast majority of the book is written retrospectively by the main character, Grace. Following her rescue, Grace and another two lifeboat survivors (both women) are put into prison awaiting trial for their role in the murder of Mr Hardie, an experienced seaman. Initially he’d kept the 30-strong lifeboat going, but his instability predicated his eventual downfall. Not enough was made of his drifting into the realms of the unreliably insane – and the rebellion of his fellow lifeboaters came too quickly and as somewhat of a shock.
Worse, in terms of the story itself, Grace relates events in a journal and does so solely for the purposes of justifying her actions. Inevitably, the reader then experiences nothing beyond the ‘facts’.
The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log
I’d been excited to read ‘the Lifeboat’ but Grace’s journal seemed to just plod along relating largely pointless details of lifeboat life, never once getting properly inside the survivors’ heads. The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log. Was this done intentionally as a stylistic choice?
The book enlivened a little only after the scantily described rescue had taken place and when three women were incarcerated awaiting trial. Such trials did take please in the nineteenth century, yet this fictional account seems unbelievable. Contrived, even. As did manipulative Grace’s final resolution.
Had this book been less about the day to day and more about the mental grief, it would have succeeded. But, for me, it failed as the characters weren’t up to the challenge. Had ‘The Lifeboat’ done this, I would have been unable to put it down. Sadly, it sunk.
#lesleyfridayreads #charlotterogan #thelifeboat