When I first came across this novel I was intrigued by the idea of the struggle for survival by passengers who made it into lifeboats after a big passenger liner sunk in the Atlantic. It takes place in 1914; two years after the Titanic went down in the same waters.
The sole narrator is Grace, a newly married 22-year old who was on her way from England to America with her husband to meet her wealthy in-laws for the first time. The author has a fascinating plot, making it clear at the start that Grace has survived, although she is in prison in New York, charged with murder.
The central character in the lifeboat is Mr. Hardie, the only crewmember aboard. His knowledge of the seas and what it takes for survival puts him in charge from the start. And the passengers are glad to have him there. He quickly assigns seating based on weight, barks out chores to be done by each survivor and rations the supply of food and water. It quickly becomes clear that the lifeboat is overcrowded and that for most to live, some need to be sacrificed. The lifeboats hold fewer people than specified.
This aspect would have been more heart wrenching if the characters were fleshed out better. As it is, we hardly get to know them. Grace matter-of-factly describes how some die aboard and others willingly slip over the side. Since no one else’s thoughts or feelings are included, it’s hard to work up much empathy for any of the characters except Grace. There are alliances and dislikes among the characters, but overall the story of their struggle to live through starvation, storms at sea and accidents don’t ring as horrifyingly true as in other descriptions of the event, including Laura Hillebrand’s novel Unbroken.
We do get to know Grace, and her life story up to this point is intriguing. She came from a poor family and refused to end up a governess like her sister. She schemed to meet the wealthy Henry, virtually stalking him, and somehow persuade him to marry her, although he was engaged to someone else. Now she believes Henry to be dead and ponders her next actions.
Surely this will be based on the outcome of her murder trial. The author has fashioned a most original start and finish to her novel, her first. And the ending has a BIG surprise.
This book is an engaging read and some readers said they finished it in one sitting, but I think it could have been more rewarding had we been able to move outside one character’s point of view.