A Seaworthy Vessel

Shipwrecked with a masterly debut novel

Javier Sirvent for TIME

First Lines. Today I shocked the lawyers, and it surprised me, the effect I could have on them. A thunderstorm arose as we were leaving the court for lunch.

"Women and children first" is not technically maritime law. But it was a given in 1914, two years after the Titanic sank and the year in which Charlotte Rogan's superb first book, The Lifeboat, is set. Thus the overcrowded vessel of the title is mostly a women's club, cast adrift after the wreck of the ocean liner Empress Alexandra. Among its members is the cunning narrator, Grace Winter, a first-class passenger returning from her European elopement.

A psychological horror story, The Lifeboat makes a fine period piece in this centennial month of the Titanic's demise--all those full skirts soaking up seawater...

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