I'm not a big fan of boats: I've only been on one cruise (not counting annual booze cruises in Aruba). I have, however, read two unforgettable yarns set in lifeboats in the past few months. The first one was Unbroken, which I read and liked earlier this year, and now this one. It is a remarkable achievement. The story unfolds during a trans-Atlantic voyage a few days after those fateful shots were fired in Sarajevo in 1914. Henry and Grace, newlyweds, are separated during the chaotic moments after their ship catches fire. Grace ends up in a lifeboat which is overcrowded and lacks sufficient supplies without knowing her husband's fate. She is our
unreliable narrator and it is through her that we come to know the other passengers. Hardee, one of the ship's crew, takes charge until his initial assurances of a speedy rescue prove false and discontent spreads. Dissatisfaction drives disaster as fear and frustration morph into famine and dissolution. Eventually a couple of women stage a mutiny as dead, and not-yet-dead, bodies go overboard. It would all seem predictable if Grace wasn't such a compelling character. We learn about her troubled past and her ephemeral dreams of happiness as she tries to stave off madness along with hunger and dehydration. We know that she survives because we first meet her during her trial but it isn't clear until the end what her alleged crime was. Ms Rogan employs a simple and robust prose style that is worthy of Ernest Hemingway. She raises questions about moral ambiguity and the imperfection of memory. I felt as if I was sitting next to Grace, whom I found captivating, despite her lack of personal hygiene. This sort of creeped me out. Bring on the booze! I wanted to shout.