Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, having survived another disastrous shipwreck, Grace Winter is a newlywed, a widow, and on trial for murder. As part of her defense, her attorneys have her describe her days on a lifeboat, leading up the death of the crewman who was a big part of the reason she and the others on the boat survived.
Grace and her new husband Henry are on their honeymoon, crossing the Atlantic on the Empress Alexandra, when a series of explosions causes the ship to sink. In the confusion that occurs during the evacuation, Grace ends up on a lifeboat, without Henry. The lifeboat that is supposed to hold 40 people has been downsized to save money, but the survivors are fortunate to have Mr. Hardie, one of the ship’s crew members, on board. Mr. Hardie’s determined to save their lives, but as the days pass, his motives become unclear. Two other survivors, Mrs. Grant and Hannah West, question Mr. Hardie’s food rationing, his decision to keep the boat near the wreckage instead of attempting to sail toward land, whether he’s hiding something on the boat, and other behavior they claim is suspicious.
Grace is somewhat of an unreliable narrator, her recollections of the events on the lifeboat are distorted by her hunger and fatigue. She is portrayed as naive and indecisive, easily swayed to the opinions of others, but one wonders how much of her story is tailored to her audience – her attorneys plan to enter her diary of the 21 days at sea into evidence. Grace is also mourning the loss of her new husband – a man she lured away from another woman – and unsure of her future, having never even met her new in-laws. She is a survivor in many different ways, doing whatever it takes to get what she feels she deserves.
The Lifeboat is a page-turner, moving from the events of the boat to Grace’s past, back to the present as she awaits her trial. Not all questions are answered, and it’s a book that will leave the reader wondering about their own fortitude and how they would react in such dire circumstances.