Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

“Time was simple, is simple. We can divide it into simple parts, measure it, arrange dinner by it, drink whisky to its passage. We can mathematically deploy it, use it to express ideas about the observable universe, and yet if asked to explain it in simple language to a child – in simple language which is not deceit, of course – we are powerless. The most it ever seems we know how to do with time is to waste it.”
~Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Plot summary

“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.
Until now.

Cover for The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. Photo: Ints Valcis (Public Domain)
Cover for The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. Photo: Ints Valcis (Public Domain)

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.” Goodreads

“Is there innocence in ignorance? And if there is, do we tolerate other for their innocence’s sake?”
~Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

“Complexity should be your excuse for inaction.”
~Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

On Claire North

“Claire North is actually Catherine Webb, a Carnegie Medal-nominated young-adult novel author whose first book, Mirror Dreams, was written when she was just 14 years old. She went on to write seven more successful YA novels. Claire North is a pseudonym for adult fantasy books written by Catherine Webb, who also writes under the pseudonym Kate Griffin.” Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Groundhog lives gone eery
  • Death after death
  • Running against timelines
Review

There is such a warmth in the British sense of humor and charm – it does not let anyone cold. Only the Brits could come up with Monty Python, Jeeves and historical dramas, such as Downton Abbey. When considering the plot in Claire North‘s novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, at first glance one could ponder that a repetitious life would be a catastrophe. However, North makes it sound like a stylistic adventure à la Graham Greene.

 Journeys through Bookland : a new and original plan for reading applied to the world's best literature for children. Photo: Internet Archive Book Images
Journeys through Bookland: a new and original plan for reading applied to the world’s best literature for children. Photo: Internet Archive Book Images

The novel is so exciting that one has a hard time putting it back down after a reading session. There is witty humor and the characters are richer than any imagination can paint. And it is a pleasure to read novels by female authors, I tend to favor male authors like everyone else.

After reading North’s novel, I did a little imagination experiment. Imagine if everyone lived their lives and at some point their aging would stop. Thereafter, one would live in that form and body at the time of the stopping. The stopping of aging would be a random process and one would be completely vulnerable to its effects – bad luck for someone coming to a ripe age of maturity in their infant years.

This constellation and fact of life would give the inter-personal relationships and social affairs a new perspective. Some individuals would be more reliant on others than some other persons. People would only come to the end of their lives in case of non-natural causes. Of course, due to this, the overpopulation issue would be tremendous if nobody actually died from natural causes. So, in this sense, this imagination experiment needs further elaboration and thinking.

Also, check out Michael Faust‘s philosophical essay on the Groundhog Day syndrome (more information below).

When I am optimistic, I choose to believe that every life I lead, every choice I make, has consequence. That I am not one Harry August but many, a mind flicking from parallel life to parallel life, and that when I die, the world carries on without me, altered by my deeds, marked by my presence.” ~Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

North‘s novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a refreshing read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in an exciting and witty plot. The novel was among my favorite Top 5 books read in 2016.

Happy International Women’s Day to all!

More information
– Eric Brown: The best science fiction novels published in June – review roundup, published in the Guardian on 13 June 2014, link retrieved on 27 February 2017
– Michael Faust: Groundhog Day, published in Philosophy Now Issue 93 in 2012, link retrieved on 27 February 2017

“There is no loss, if you cannot remember what you have lost.”
~Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

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Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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