The initial reviews coming in for this debut novel were exciting...I heard about character studies and unreliable narrators and human frailty. Plus, what could be more intriguing that a lifeboat full of people in the middle of the ocean? Survival skills, weather, animals, all clashing in one small place. I had memories of "The Life of Pi", "Unbroken", Jack and Rose, Joe Versus the Volcano! So when I was able to get my hands on an audio review copy (muchas gracias Mitch at Hachette Audio!), I was buzzing with anticipation.
Unfortunately it did not quite live up to my expectations. It has taken me some time to admit this to even myself, because I'm one of the lone few that feels this way. Let me tell you a bit about the premise:
Synopsis: Grace Winter was only 22 when she met and married Henry, a wealthy businessman. Convinced that she had found happiness and an end to her worries of money, she boarded an luxurious ocean liner with her new husband, headed across the Atlantic. But when there is an explosion, the passengers' fears from the Titanic's sinking two years earlier are realized, and the ship goes down. Grace's husband secures her a spot on one of the lifeboats, but it is immediately clear they are beyond capacity.
Grace narrates her tale of survival, of dwindling supplies and harsh elements, that challenge the survivors. But of bigger concern are the dramas unfolding within the boat...power struggles, alliances made and broken, hidden agendas and secrets carefully guarded. As one could imagine, as resources wane, tension escalates, and things go very wrong for the inhabitants of the lifeboat, leaving Grace on trial for her life. What really happened out there? Can we trust a word she says?
My thoughts: I think most everyone knows going into this book that Grace is telling her own cock-and-bull story (You like that? Slang from the farm it is.) She parses out what she wants us to hear and believe, as she sits in prison on trial for murder. (This is not a spoiler...we know this in the first page.) She is doing some fast-talking and tap dancing. So you expect half-truths, and for her to be an unlikeable character. Because of all the hype for the book, though, I figured the rug would be pulled out from under me, and I'd be blown away by some outlandish, unforeseeable plot twist. I was not.
The character development WAS fun. Under the stress, and the effort to survive, the lifeboat inhabitants turned into vile, scrappy, conniving creatures, and this was entertaining to observe. But the observing all took place from an emotional distance, like you would at the monkey cage at the zoo. It was hard to invest in any one person, and the pace was slow. As I closed in on the end, I found that I was weary of Grace and wanted it to be over.
There are very discussable points here though, and for that reason, would make this a good choice for book clubs. I wouldn't imagine it would be the 2012 favorite, but would anticipate lots of debate, which is ultimately what you want in a book club read.
A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this book was Rebecca Gibel, who is a new voice for me. She did a decent job at bringing Grace to life, with her innocent-sounding voice with traces of undercurrent. Neither was it overly memorable however.
Listening length: 7 hours and 47 minutes (288 pages)
2.5 out of 5 stars