A stunningly good first novel, this book had me hooked from the start. Grace Winter tells us her story of how she became a newlywed, a widow, and on trial for her life, all by the age of 22. Grace is introduced to the reader as she walks through the rain to a hearing. Her light-hearted antics in the rain present a stark contrast to the story that immediately follows.
It is 1914, two years after the Titanic. Grace and her new husband, Henry, are aboard a luxury liner returning to America after their European honeymoon when the liner is stricken by a mysterious explosion. Henry maneuvers to get Grace on a lifeboat, which the survivors soon learn is filled beyond its capacity.
As the survivors battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she had attained. Her narration weaves between the days that drag on and on, waiting for rescue, and the saga of the life that brought her to the ill-fated honeymoon.
I do not usually like a book with a prologue that relates an event and then flashes back to the story leading up to that event. I spend most of my reading wondering when the event will happen. That was not the case with this book. While I knew there would be a trial, I did not hang on waiting for the offense that prompted that trial. Because the ordeal on the lifeboat was so engrossing and harrowing, I waited for their rescue, and took all other events as they came. And very often, I found myself wondering what I would do if I were in that situation.
Since this story is told by Grace, from her point of view, there are elements we can never know completely. Characters and events can only be as thoroughly related as they are known to her. The setting is also colored by the time period in which it is set, with that era’s view of gender and class. Grace emerges as both creator and victim of her circumstances, and is as memorable and complex as the events she describes.
Reviewed by Jeanette Walker