Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Lifeboat - Book Review

I thought I would love The Lifeboat. A friend highly recommended it and I have in the past enjoyed the other books I've read about survival on the open ocean. I was immediately intrigued by the opening chapters. Three women are on trial after surviving on a lifeboat with 39 other people after the sinking of their ocean liner in the early days of World War I. The suspense and mystery are immediately introduced and the desire to find out what happens at the end compelled me to devour the book in a day.

Survival books are interesting studies of human nature--watching people reduced from polite and civilized to instinctual beings intent only on their survival or mere shells of themselves as they give in to the harshness of nature and die. Are people good or bad? Do they become their true selves now that they are released from the rules of society? Are their real personalities magnified or are they changed by their horrible surroundings? What The Lifeboat does well is highlight these questions and others about those who survive or don't survive in perilous situations. The book will leave you pondering about human nature for days afterward.

However, what the book fails to do is keep up with itself in the story. The plotting is slow at times--regularly going back to the narrator's past with her husband, now lost at sea and presumed dead. Other than the main character/narrator, the other 39 people on the lifeboat do not become fully fleshed characters. It is hard even to grasp the motivations of the co-conspirators on trial. Possibly this is because of the narcissistic nature of the narrator who cannot fully be trusted. Nuggets of information are given regarding the mystery surrounding the main character and the sinking of the luxurious ocean liner to entice the reader to keep going. But just like the philosophical questions that aren't really answered, neither is the mystery solved or the truth discovered.

Other books of ocean survival I enjoyed more are :

In the Heart of the Sea : The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (the tale of the true story that inspired Melville's Moby Dick--it made my top 12 book list for 2010)

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (read my review of Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife *here*)
Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

1 comment:

Booklogged said...

Gee, I feel shallow. (no pun intended) I didn't like Life of Pi and haven't read the other three you liked. Reading about survival at sea doesn't sound fun so I will gladly skip The Lifeboat. The premise does sound interesting, though. I wish I could read a book in a day. I'm too slow of a reader and I don't have the stick-to-it factor working for me. The book your reading next sounds good. Looking forward to your review.