The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. ★★★1/2
I liked The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but I feel like I’ve read other of Claire North’s books where she better handles the same thematic material regarding humanity and immortality. Regardless, there’s still a lot that’s good about this historical science fiction literary mashup.
Harry August continues through his life time after time again, being reborn to the same parents, in the same year, in the same place. But he keeps the knowledge of all the times he has lived this life before. At the end of his eleventh life, a little girl tells him that the world is ending. And that the end of the world has been getting faster.
There’s a number of other stories out there about people repeating their lives or sections of their lives. However, North is able to make the concept fresh by bringing in a new twist – Harry is not the only person repeating his life. There are others, from all periods of time, and these people have formed the Cronus Club. Through the club, the future, past, and present can interact. The club can communicate with the future and past through the trickle down method – one of the youngest members will whisper in the ear of one of the oldest, so that when he or she is reborn they in turn can give the message to someone with an earlier birth date.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was possibly the most slowly paced book I’ve read by Claire North. A thrill went through me in that opening scene, when Harry’s told the world is ending. Bu then the book gets into Harry’s first life and skips around through the rest of his lives before the eleventh. Even when he starts on his twelve life, there’s still a multitude of digressions.
“Men must be decent first and brilliant later, otherwise you’re not helping people, just servicing the machine.”
When you’ve lived for centuries, it’s easy to get bored. What you do with your life feels like it ceases to matter, and many of the Cronus Club members spend their time on the most basic pleasures as they seek some escape from the tedium. There’s a sense that the others around you – the linears as they’re called – don’t matter. Does anything matter if you’ll just begin life back where you started?
I didn’t find Harry a very memorable narrator. Possibly it’s the emotional deadness and boredom created by his immortality. Possibly it’s that his voice feels like the voice of almost every first person narrator written by Claire North. There wasn’t anything which distinguished him to me besides the living multiple lives thing.
I read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August immediately after finishing one of Claire North’s other stories, so it’s possible that I was just burned out on her writing style. While I didn’t find it without flaws, it’s still a book I’d recommend.