Summary: SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME.
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.
No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.
As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”
This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.
Thoughts: It was an interesting coincidence that I read this book when I did, picking it at random from my To Read pile, since at that time I had been considering revisiting an old story idea that was very similar to the concept in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. The idea of living your life, then going back and doing it all over again, memories intact and being fully aware of the fact that you’re living it all over again… What would you change? What would you keep the same? What responsibility would you feel to society and to the world, preventing damage and creating gains, and is it really your right to decide?
This is what Harry August experiences. Every time he dies, he is born again into the same life, still himself, still in the same circumstances forced on him by childhood, but always with the memories of his previous lives intact, always with the awareness that all of this has happened before. And because of these memories, his life is different each time. He’s able to use past knowledge to advance himself further, to skip past the tedium of a typical life that he has already lived in order to improve himself. Then he discovers the Cronus Club, a world-wide organization of people just like him, who are reborn time and time again with their memories intact, who live their lives over and over again and who have vowed, among other things, to not alter the course of history so drastically that the future becomes unrecognizable.
The end of the world is coming. But now it’s coming faster than ever before.
Someone has broken that rule.
Claire North is an absolutely amazing writer, able to take small things and extrapolate the consequences and make a fantastic story out of them. Not only that, but the story forces you, by its very nature, to stop thinking in a linear fashion, A then B then C, and to contemplate cause and effect in a way that I don’t see done very often. Reading it twists your mind in interesting new directions, trying to keep track of timelines and relative perception and really, I need more books in my life that give my brain such a good workout, because it’s both entertaining and thought-provoking. For all that the premise for this book is relatively simple, it’s not a light read, and it’s worth taking the time to puzzle over and properly digest.
But it’s also for that very reason that I see a lot of people talk about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August just wasn’t to their taste. If you’re expecting a light read, you won’t get it. If you want something that’s just fluffy and straightforward, you won’t get it. If you want something that’s fast-paced and full of tension and good action, this isn’t the book you should be picking up. It’s one of those books that I highly recommend people look into reviews of first, because this isn’t the book for everyone, no matter how good it is. Whether you enjoy it is probably going to be based very much on what you expect when going into it.
For my part, though, I loved it. The characters were beautifully real, flawed and selfish and diverse as anything! People like Harry, whether you call them ourobourans or kalachakra or non-linears, can occur anywhere, at any time, and thanks to memories of the future and the assets of the Cronus Club, they’re able to live comfortably wherever and whenever they are. So you’ll see the years of Harry’s life, from the early 1900s onward, in different countries, different regimes and governments, different ways of living and thinking, and it gives you a great perspective on world history, looking at the large from the viewpoint of the very small. It’s such an intelligent novel, well-researched and amazingly written, even if it’s a little bit dry at times.
So, long story short, if you’re in the mood for thought-provoking smart novel that takes an interesting approach to history and perception, then get your hands on a copy of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. It may not be the kind of novel that everyone will enjoy reading, but if you’re the right type, it will trip so many of the right triggers and be a very satisfying literary adventure.
(Received for review from the publisher.)