x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

The Lifeboat: sinking was only the start of survivors' saga

Charlotte Rogan's gripping debut novel begins in an Edwardian prison where a young widow is awaiting trial for murder and writing an account of the weeks she spent on a lifeboat following a maritime disaster.

Charlotte Rogan's ill-fated ocean liner, the Empress Alexandra, is en route from London to New York in the summer of 1914 when it sinks due to an explosion. Newlyweds Grace and Henry Winter are aboard when disaster strikes and Henry, a wealthy banker, manages to secure a place for his wife on one of the ship's lifeboats, but isn't so fortunate himself.

Grace's survival requires more than just that safe passage. Instead, her story begins in prison where she is awaiting trial for murder and, at her lawyer's request, she's writing an account of the weeks she spent on the lifeboat. The long periods Grace endures in limbo - in jail and at sea - allow Rogan the scope to draw a rich and complex protagonist, filling in any blanks in her back-story.

Suffering from hunger and thirst is not the worst affliction that blighted those who were saved. The bigger problem is that the lifeboat is overcapacity and forming the right alliances appears as important to survival as food and water.

Rogan's gripping debut novel arrives at a timely moment too, especially given that April marks a century since the RMS Titanic disaster.