- Non Fiction
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
List Price: £8.99
Paperback: 448 Pages.
Published: 28 August 2014 by Orbit
Edition: 2014 edition
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.
A very clever idea
Harry is one of an elite group of people that can live over and over again. He lives his first life in somewhat obscurity and then is reborn in exactly the same circumstances only to commit suicide with madness. It is only when he gets to his third life that he realises what is happening and then he is contacted by another of the group of people to whom the same thing happens and begins to use each life to its potential.
This is an excellent idea, it is clever and very well worked out and the author seems to have thought of all the ramifications for how you would live and what would be important to you in this situation (as well as the boredom of living through childhood again and again).
A message then comes back through the years that the end of the world in coming sooner than it should and those who relive their lives are finding that their memories of past lives are being wiped and that the structures they have built to preserve themselves are being destroyed. Harry ends up being the person who has to do something about this and he needs to use all his powers and his intelligence to survive past fifteen lives.
I loved this book. I felt very attached to Harry and to what was happening to him and I loved the way that the author developed the story. I enjoyed the various ways that those in Harry's situation lived and also the fact that he, and others, took it upon themselves to right certain wrongs in every life that they lived. I did find that I had some difficulty in working out exactly what the "villain" was up to and what his machine would do but apart from that detail I enjoyed what Harry had to do in order to foil him and I thought that the author was very clever in working this out.
This is an excellent five star read. It is unusual, clever and engaging. One for those who enjoyed "The Time Traveller's Wife" or "Unhappenings" as it is similar.
by Debra Found
Simple Concept, Brilliant Book
Every now and then along comes a book which provides a most unusual twist on a book genre. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffeneggar is a classic example of a brilliant twist on the concept of time travel. This is another and it is equally as brilliant.
Harry August lives his life from his 1920 birth in a railway station, through WWII and on to his eventual death from cancer. And then he starts again. As he grows up he starts to realise that he has done all this before and remembers his past. He doesn't need to learn to read and write as he has done it before. He has a man's memories in the child's body and builds on his knowledge. He can't escape from his cancerous fate and dies, again. Then he is born, again.
The whole concept behind this book is quite simple but quite brilliant. It builds on the basic idea of reincarnation but in a slightly unusual way. Harry has wonderful lives learning, travelling and becoming rich. He also discovers the hard way that it is probably best not to mention this to too many people. He also discovers that he is not alone and there have always been a few people in history for whom life is lived on a continual loop. This whole concept is enough for a book but then the author throws in some intrigue, a few enemies and a race for Harry to save his kind of people.
Harry is a wonderful character. The things that he does on discovering that he has lived before seem perfectly reasonable. He isn't a saint and he makes mistakes, sometimes using and hurting people on the way. We also have Vincent who sees things slightly differently to Harry. A man who is a friend as well as an enemy.
You'd think that as a reader you would struggle to keep up with Harry's lives and the way that he lives the same events over and over again. This isn't the case. To be perfectly honest it all made complete & utter sense. I know this isn't a real concept but the author made it seem very real and believable. I particularly liked the moral concepts that bother Harry throughout his lives. Once he knows how people die should he try to save them next time around? He knows the outcome of WWII, should he fight in it? Can he stop himself dying from cancer? Is it right to make money out of this? These and other dilemmas are discussed throughout the book in Harry's own mind and also with others of his kind, particularly Vincent.
There is an enormous amount in this book. The whole concept of Harry and the others like him, their lives, the dilemmas they face and their struggle against a man who would see them destroyed makes for an intricate and brilliant book. It is well written with a great use of language and much left for the reader to think about themselves. As I am sure you have gathered I loved this book. However, I am sure that I missed a great deal on my first read through , as is often the case with such a complex work, and am looking forward to reading it again soon.