Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat

Disturbing, intense and claustrophobic, Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat follows the lives of 39 passengers following the sinking of an ocean liner in 1914. Adrift in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with the possibility of rescue looking less and less likely, the lifeboat is dangerously over-full and provisions increasingly scarce.Charlotte Rogan's The Lifeboat

Thrown together in the confined space of the boat, the passengers face moral dilemmas and difficult decisions in their struggle for survival. Newly formed relationships are pushed to the limit as personalities clash and the survivors’ battle to take control of their surroundings. The Lifeboat tackles the darkest places of the human psyche and also reminds us of the wild and brutal potential of the natural world.

The novel is told through the words of 22-year-old Grace Winter, who came on board the doomed ship with her new husband, Henry, and was left widowed after the accident. However, throughout the book, we start to suspect that Grace may not be a very reliable source. Her narrative tone becomes increasingly distant and dispassionate, and the truth behind events is thrown into question.

As we follow the passengers from their perilous situation on the open seas to the trials of the courtroom on their eventual return, Charlotte Rogan tackles potentially contentious issues as she challenges everything from religious belief to inequality in gender roles.

I raced through this book and had to stop myself from reading ahead to the end. Some people have commented that it’s hard to sympathise with the characters, but I thought this just added to the overall tone of the novel. The author deliberately doesn’t write characters that are likeable. Instead, she uses the passengers of the lifeboat to explore the depths of human nature and personalities, both good and bad, as well as the lengths we will go to survive.

It’s impossible to imagine how we ourselves would react if we were forced into the same situation and you can’t help but put yourself in their place. It’s a gripping, and thought-provoking read, and although admittedly it did make for slightly uncomfortable reading I’d definitely recommend it.

The King in the car park

Today, a skeleton found underneath a car park in Leicester was confirmed to be the remains of Richard III. The last King of the Plantagenet line, his remains have laid undisturbed on the site of the old Grey Friars church since he died in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485. I won’t go into details of the discovery as it’s been discussed in great depth all over the Internet, but suffice it to say that DNA testing and extensive examination of the skeleton has proved his identity beyond reasonable doubt.

Richard IIIThroughout history, Richard III has proved to be a highly contentious figure and has long been shrouded in mystery, not least because of his suspected involvement in the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. This mystery, along with the dubious politics and intense and famed rivalry of the York family, has inspired numerous and varying depictions of King Richard III in literature throughout the ages, from Shakespeare’s classic tragedy to Philippa Gregory’s latest series, The Cousins’ War.

These works have immortalised the Richard III and have irrevocably shaped the way that we view him today. However, the reliability of our literary sources has been called into question, with many insisting that this representation of the long dead king was born out of fear, prejudice and hate. It’s just one example of how literature, both past and present, can have a powerful influence over our thoughts and shape how we’re remembered by future generations.

However in this case, one of the most prevalent myths about Richard III circulated by Shakespeare’s play has actually been proven to be true. The late king really was a hunchback. But there’s only so much that physical evidence can prove. No matter how hard we look, his skeleton will never reveal what really happened to the princes or the true relationship between Richard and his brothers, wife, nephews or country.

It’s this ever present ambiguity that continues to fascinate historians, authors and the public alike – and it’s what keeps past and present historical fiction at the top of the bestseller lists. The fact that we can never really know what happened continues to prompt a hunger for knowledge amongst readers, and authors are only too happy to have the chance to fill in the blanks. So until we invent a time machine or find a portal to the past, historical fiction is most definitely here to stay!