Reading

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: book review

Author: Claire North (aka Kate Griffin and Catherine Webb)

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group

Year: April 2014

Rating:

OK, I have so many mixed feelings about this book! The #MonthlyTitles challenge for August turned out to be quite more challenging than I anticipated. First, because this book was a bit over 400 pages and it wasn’t an easy read. The second reason was that I had another 500+ book to read and review this month. So, a lot of reading was done, a lot of pages were turned, and boy was it worth it!

I rarely think the blurbs of books do them any justice and are actually useful to grasping the essence of the book, but here it goes anyway:

‘SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME’

‘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.

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.’

As I’m sure a lot of people will have had the same experience, I was quickly obsessed with the story, it seemed like a very interesting and original idea, the one of living many lives and the realisation that you are reborn every time, coming to terms with this idea and trying to comprehend the reasons why. Time is one of the main themes, linear and circular time, the ability to live through all of your lives and start over again despite the pain and the heartbreak. In Harry’s case, he’s a kalachakra, an ouroboran: an immortal, doomed to live the same life over and over again, in the same timeline. He’s also mnemonic, which means that he remembers everything from his past lives. His memory is the only constant in his ever-changing, infinite life. The way time travel is explored is so clever and it shows the author’s immense imagination. Time is just an illusion. The past cannot be changed, the future is in danger. I love it when authors don’t just reveal all the information to us, but rather let us explore the characters, chewing over a situation in our minds consequently and logically, and reach any conclusions ourselves. Love it. It’s like the book challenges you to think, to reflect, not just to absorb information but to process it as well. This is what this book does.

The other themes just add to this fact: there’s so much science that we, as readers, could start to feel overwhelmed at a certain point. Medicine, physics, mathematics, chemistry, they all evolve and advance throughout Harry’s lives, and reveal a disturbing future of the world. In the text there are a lot of historical and political references to real events that happened in history, so if someone has skipped a lesson or two at school (haven’t we all?), they might struggle a bit with understanding. Such great writing from a very knowledgeable author, so many vivid, witty, humorous, sarcastic characters, and quick, sharp-minded conversations. I enjoyed every minute I spent with this book, even though the middle part slowed me down a little. I am so glad I didn’t give up, as it turned out to be one of the most inventive reads I’ve encountered this year.

This is one of those books that you realise how brilliant it is just after you finish it. I wanted to start reading it over again immediately after I finished it. I think a second read would help me to understand it better and I would pay more attention to all the details and names this time. And keep better track of all the times Harry August was reborn, all the dates and years he jumps back and forth to. As with the way time is presented in the book, Harry’s journey through the pages doesn’t reflect his lives in succession, he talks about one life, then goes back to another, then even further back in the past, before jumping a few lives ahead. This is why it gets confusing in the middle, and you could use a little bit of motivation to go on, but hey, I promise it is worth it!

It’s definitely a book that makes you think about the future, about the past and about the people who you meet along the way. I was thinking about the importance of scientific research and technological advances, the fact that they could be very dangerous when they happen at the wrong time and place. Also, if they happen to be in the hands of the wrong people.

I loved The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August not only because of all the science, which was, indeed, fascinating to read about, all the experiments, theories and new technology. It’s not just about science, there were some very ‘normal’ topics as well, like true friendship, the one that stands the test of time, and the notion that we only think we know someone. In fact, we don’t really know anybody, we just think we do. One lifetime, it turns out, is not enough to truly get to know someone, even the people that are closest to us.

It definitely and easily became one of my favourite books, and science fiction is my favourite genre for a reason—there are so many great sci-fi books!

In case you need me… #owlbeereading!

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