My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I shivered, and for the first time since the day of the shipwreck, I felt profoundly afraid. We were doomed. This I knew for a certainty, or close to certainty, but still I looked to Hardie, outlined there in the back of the boat, glaring unwaveringly at us all…
After a Titanic/Lusitania-era shipwreck, thirty-nine survivors are stranded together on a crowded lifeboat with little hope of rescue. As the days drag on, lines are drawn, alliances are made, and the young, newly-widowed Grace Winter is caught in the middle of a power struggle that could either doom or save them all.
The author puts together a picture of the microcosmic world in the lifeboat that’s both realistic and frightening. The characters within the boat were realistic (though I had to keep a list in order to keep straight who was who), and their descent into desperation and madness was terrifying, because you could see it actually happening in such a situation. The author’s descriptions made you really feel there, as if you could actually feel the rain, or the dry heat, or the water splashing up over your boots. The narrator sometimes focused in on the small details, and these little additions made it all the more vivid.
I did, not, however, care at all for the main character, which made it hard for me to sympathize with her plight. Her background revealed her to be a self-important gold-digger and throughout the novel she continues to take an apathetic approach in which all that really motivates her is her own will to survive. She acted bitterly towards some of the other characters for no apparent reason, and as I was reading, I was never quite sure how she was going to act. First-person narrations generally serve to give the reader insight into a character’s mind, but I didn’t really find that the case here.
There were also far too many loose ends. As I approached the ending, I kept hoping that things would fall into place, that we’d finally find out (highlight to view spoiler: if there really was gold in the other lifeboat, if Hardie really did have sinister motives for how he acted, if Henry’s mother had actually received the telegram (Grace did talk to her afterward; wouldn’t she have asked!?!)), or kept waiting for some crazy twist that would explain Grace’s attitude about the whole thing (highlight to view spoiler: had she secretly killed Mary Ann? was the ship sabotaged? did Hardie know some secret about Henry?) but it all ended in a rather straightforward fashion that leaves the reader hanging a bit, forced to accept the fact that there are some things we’ll just never know.
Overall: A tragic tale, filled with philosophy and moral dilemmas for the deep thinker who isn’t afraid of getting a little seasick