The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a hard one to review. It’s a weird mix of genres. It lies somewhere between a literary novel, science fiction and thriller. Besides that, I really didn’t enjoy the first half as much as the second half. It’s not about time travel, but in a way it also is about time travel. So, bear with me while I try to review this weird book.
Fifteen lives? Say what now?
So, the book is about Harry August, a kalachakra. These very rare people live a normal life, die, and then respawn. As themselves. With the same parents, in the same year, on the same date. To live the exact same life again. But, since they now know that they are reincarnating as themselves over and over again, they get to make different life choices. Want to learn Spanish in your fifth life? Why not! Travel the globe, invest in Google, watch some interesting events take place. Here’s what Goodreads has to say about the plot:
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.
The kalachakra’s have one important rule: don’t change big events. So that means don’t kill Hitler, stop Lee Harvey Oswald or warn the people in the Twin Towers. They can change their own lives each time over, but the past and the future always have to play out basically the same. And then… the future starts changing and as a result, the world is ending. It’s up to Harry August to stop that from happening.
The first half nearly made me stop reading
I read mostly positive reviews about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. It has such an intriguing premise, I had to read it. So when it appeared in a sale for my loved Kobo, I bought it without thinking twice. But wile reading, I nearly stopped for a couple of times. The story was all over the place. Harry August narrates the book and he kept going back to events that happened in his first eleven lives. It took the speed out of the main story. Every time something started happening in the ‘present’, the book skipped to something completely unrelated in Harry’s past. I just couldn’t get into the story at all.
Was this really just about a man telling his life story? And while it certainly is an interesting story, when nothing happens at all, it’s just plain boring. But I don’t like to DNF a book, certainly not if I paid good money for it. So I just kept on reading, hoping that the positive reviews weren’t wrong. At least the writing by author Claire North was excellent, so that was one thing that kept me going.
Long live the second part of the book
At about the exact middle of the book, the pace picks up. A lot. Finally the beginning of the book starts making sense. Things start falling into place and it’s now clear why certain characters were introduced in the first place. It started to feel more like a thriller, and an exciting one at that. I finished the second part in just a couple of hours, whereas the first half took me weeks to get through.
Also, I really like it when a book makes you think. In the case of Harry August, it’s obvious what to ponder on: what would you do if you got to live your life over and over again? It wouldn’t be hard to erase stupid mistakes. You could make tons of money (most kalachakra’s are indeed pretty wealthy), see lots of places, meet interesting people. But, everybody around you wouldn’t remember who you are the second time around. And that was what made me realize that no way in hell would I ever want to be a kalachakra, no matter how interesting it sounds. This is very different from, say, vampires, who just live forever, but in the same life.
Harry August: conclusion
I wish the entire book had the pace of the second half. I would have enjoyed the book so much more. Still, the second part won me over to making this a recommendation to all lovers of time travel stories, as this is such a different and unique take on the subject. I would just warn new readers that this story takes some time to get into. It’s one of those books that is pretty hard to explain without giving too much of the plot away. I could mention what exactly happens as to why the world is ending, but that would take away much of the pleasure of reading it.
This is one of those books you have to get into pretty blanco. You can read the Goodreads description and some reviews, but the only way to really know this book, is to read it. So while this isn’t one of those gushing five star reviews, it still was worth my time. Give it a go, and don’t say I didn’t warn you about that slooooooow first half of the book.