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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

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Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime. 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. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl a Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime. 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. 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.


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Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime. 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. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl a Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime. 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. 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.

30 review for The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

  1. 5 out of 5

    Regan

    Very very Clever! The first half was pretty solid but after that halfway point it took a turn to AWESOME.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I'm clearly missing something here (look at all the rave reviews!), but man, it was such a chore to get through this. At one point, the author used the term "glacial sluggishness" to describe something-or-other, and that strikes me as the perfect description for the pace and action in this book. I actually was loving it at the start, but it kept dragging on and on and on and growing more and more tedious as it continued. I felt like I was always a step behind on the science and logic (not sure i I'm clearly missing something here (look at all the rave reviews!), but man, it was such a chore to get through this. At one point, the author used the term "glacial sluggishness" to describe something-or-other, and that strikes me as the perfect description for the pace and action in this book. I actually was loving it at the start, but it kept dragging on and on and on and growing more and more tedious as it continued. I felt like I was always a step behind on the science and logic (not sure if this is the book's fault for not explaining things thoroughly enough or mine for not having a very scientific brain). Harry is possibly the least compelling main character I've ever read. Imagine living for centuries and never developing an ounce of personality--incredible in its own way. Ugh. I was tired of reading it, and now I'm tired of reviewing it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies

    “This thing you carry inside you, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know where you got it. But Harry, the past is the past. You are alive today. That is all that matters. You must remember, because it is who you are, but as it is who you are, you must never, ever regret. To regret your past is to regret your soul.” This book is incredible. And I have Mike to blamethank. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I keep picturing the main character as Eddie Redmayne. Anyone who knows me will know that this “This thing you carry inside you, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know where you got it. But Harry, the past is the past. You are alive today. That is all that matters. You must remember, because it is who you are, but as it is who you are, you must never, ever regret. To regret your past is to regret your soul.” This book is incredible. And I have Mike to blamethank. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I keep picturing the main character as Eddie Redmayne. Anyone who knows me will know that this is not my typical reading material at all. I like speed. Action. A fast-paced plot. I hate conspiracies. I don't do drama. Above all else I fucking hated Groundhog Day. I don't want to have to think (I already read the news and think plenty of work), for my reading, I want to be entertained. In that sense, this book should have been the antithesis of anything I would ever enjoy. I was so wrong, so blissfully, gleefully wrong. What a wonderful book. What a marvelous piece of literature. The hype is real. This book is about a man who has to relive his life over and over and over, seemingly without end. That is my version of hell. Like most people, I suffer from the ailment of overthinking. I tend to overanalyze my life, I sometimes wished I had another life. I can't think of anything more horrendous than having to relive one's life over and over again. I suppose the prospect might be fun for some, if one is born with a silver spoon in one's mouth. But what if one were born into hardship? Imagine, say, a child born into the depths of poverty in Africa. There is only so much upward mobility that's possible for such a person. With few exceptions, it is difficult to change one's path in life. Imagine knowing what's going to happen, and unable to prevent it. All the tragedies, all the needless deaths that have occurred since one's birth. It's enough to drive a person mad. To relive one's life is nightmarish indeed. This book explores that concept with exceptional depth and reality. The writing is beautiful. Evocative without being purple-prosey in the slightest. To take a few words from J.K. Rowling, the author of this book did things with words I've never seen before. It's magical. She manages to verbalize the concept of a single word, spinning it into a paragraph without making it seem utterly unnecessarily verbose. Euphoria is, I believe, the term they use to describe the sensation, and upon experience I found it to be an entirely useless definition, as it relies on comparatives that are not apt to the situation. A happiness beyond compare, a contentment beyond understanding, a bliss, a travelling, a freeing of the mind from the flesh–these are all, in their ways, an appropriate description of the process, but they mean nothing, for no recollection can re-create them and no substitute mimic them. This book doesn't deal with the issue of depression as much as it deals with the issue of existentialism, and in many ways, they're the same. “I know now that there is something dead inside me though I cannot remember exactly when it died.” The despair of existence, the fact that one has to relive life after life, finding meaning in each, and then losing it. Making impossible decisions knowing the consequences. Losing loved ones over and over again. My loss of faith was not revelatory, nor intensely distressing. It was a prolonged growth of resignation, one which the events of my life had only reinforced, until I was forced to conclude that any conversations I had with a deity were entirely one way. Now to the negatives. The writing aside, this book moves at the pace of a snail with a broken leg (I know that snails don't have legs, but isn't that the cutest imagery ever?). Here, have a cartoon. Nevertheless, the writing more than makes up for the slow pacing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dan Schwent

    Harry August is a kalachakra, a man who is reborn at the same point in time over and over with his memories intact. When a little girl warns Harry on his eleventh death bed that the end of the world is coming sooner with each cycle, Harry goes on the offensive. Can he stop the end of the world, even with the help of the Cronus Club? I got this from Netgalley. I love a bit of timey-wimey and this book has it in spades. Remember the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray experiences the same day over Harry August is a kalachakra, a man who is reborn at the same point in time over and over with his memories intact. When a little girl warns Harry on his eleventh death bed that the end of the world is coming sooner with each cycle, Harry goes on the offensive. Can he stop the end of the world, even with the help of the Cronus Club? I got this from Netgalley. I love a bit of timey-wimey and this book has it in spades. Remember the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray experiences the same day over and over? Now, imagine the day is a lifetime and there are other people experiencing it as well. That's pretty much the plot. I'm going to get my gripe out of the way first. The book moves at a glacial pace, mostly due to the constant digressions. The publisher's blurb makes it sound like the world is in jeopardy immediately. Not so. I was 30% of the way through the book by the time the little girl showed up. That being said, this is a very compelling book. It deals with classic time travel themes like not messing with the past and weighty topics like how our experiences make us who we are. Harry's not the most interesting character I've ever read about but he lives some interesting lives. Once the little girl finally shows up to warn Harry during his eleventh life, everything is kicked up a notch and Harry's lives finally have a greater purpose. Harry being reborn as himself in the same point in history every time reminds me of reading the same Choose Your Own Adventure book over and over without being able to keep your thumb at the previous choice so you can go back. "Maybe if I run away at age six, everything will turn out okay..." Kalachakras at the beginning of their life cycles handing off info to kalachakras at the end of theirs was a novel way of passing info back in time, even though the information could taint the timeline. At the end of the day, I'm not really sure how to go about rating this. I loved the concepts and the writing was very good but Harry wasn't a very compelling lead. The endless digressions were a little annoying. I guess I'll give it the traditional safety rating of three stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vrinda Pendred

    WARNING: There are 'spoilers' in this review. This is possibly the dullest book I've ever read. I suppose that deserves credit of some sort. Like ‘The House of the Seven Gables’, the author excelled at making me feel so claustrophobic and trapped in a realm of endless tedium that I related to the narrator’s disgust with life after suffering through just fifty pages. That’s not the mark of a good story, though. The 'plot', if you will (and if I sound like I'm speaking in a pretentious poncy way, it WARNING: There are 'spoilers' in this review. This is possibly the dullest book I've ever read. I suppose that deserves credit of some sort. Like ‘The House of the Seven Gables’, the author excelled at making me feel so claustrophobic and trapped in a realm of endless tedium that I related to the narrator’s disgust with life after suffering through just fifty pages. That’s not the mark of a good story, though. The 'plot', if you will (and if I sound like I'm speaking in a pretentious poncy way, it's because I've been infected by the style in which this narrative was composed...ahem): Harry (the narrator) is one of many who live their natural life, only to find that following death, they are reborn in the same life, to start all over again. Most people with this condition can't remember details of their previous lives when they're reborn. Harry is one of the rare few who remember 'everything'. He is labelled a 'mnemonic'. Why does this fail so spectacularly as a plot device? Because they also repeat ad infinitum that no matter what you do in each successive life, 'you cannot change anything'. It even says on the back of the book, 'Nothing ever changes,' and, '...he tries to save a past he cannot change....' However, if you alone remember your previous lifetimes, you are a wild card. You are going to start influencing your environment / the people around you / the events that occur. It is not possible for everything to be exactly the same. Things WILL change - potentially quite big things. Think of the butterfly effect. At the very least, you yourself will change dramatically. This story simply does not work. Now, before I go on, I would like to address certain comments on this review, saying I'm listing 'supposed' plot holes and simply didn't understand the book. Let's examine the most obvious plot hole of all: the entire premise. So, you live maybe 80 years, die, and you're reborn...into the same family, the same life, and you remember everything. This means you have to redo all of infancy, childhood and adolescence knowing you lived before and anticipating every event. Think about the title of the book - this happens to you at least 15 times over. That's a minimum of 280 years spent growing up, over and over again. How frustrated would you be? Overall, you would have lived maybe 1,200 years. That's 1,200 years of witnessing the same events, meeting the same people, being forced to do the same things, hearing the same 'news', etc. This would send you crazy. There'd be no excitement anymore. Music, films, etc. would never be new again. Politics would have no meaning. You'd have to get to know people again and again, even though you already know them. You'd never fall in love for the first time again, unless you sought other people and abandoned your whole childhood set-up, again and again. Death would lose all significance, because you'd know you'd see everyone again. Your own death would be meaningless, because you'd expect to be reborn. The back of the book says this story is 'totally original'. It's not - it's 'Groundhog Day' over a longer timescale. So, what would you do? What would you do if you were being treated like a 3-year-old but could remember being 80? You'd definitely start rebelling and doing whatever you liked. With time, I expect you'd possibly start dabbling in suicide, or maybe even murder. You'd be skydiving and potholing and taking up all kinds of other dangerous activities. You'd pursue a different career path in every life, to try to mix it up. It would be hell and you would be doing absolutely everything you could to make the best of it, to stay sane - but I don't think you'd succeed. I'll tell you what you would NOT do: spend every boring life sitting around in someone's living room talking about politics - which is pretty much what Harry does through this whole book. Remember, if we take this premise seriously, he's doing 1,200 years of this - 1,200 years of tirade after endless boring pointless mind-numbing agonising soul-destroying pretentious tirade about things like communism - as if ANY of this is new and interesting and insightful in 2015 - and what does it matter, if you can't change anything anyway? You're just going to die and end up back in the same political climate with no evolution. How do you even know the future exists? This is how you would likely start to think, if this were real. Moreover, the political ideas she promotes in this book actually offended and angered me. They showed so little regard for the victims of history that I was disgusted. I suppose the point is that I came away from this book thinking the author doesn't understand people and basic human psychology / behaviour. This was reinforced by the fact that I had to keep reminding myself the narrator was meant to be a man. He sounded so like a woman, to me. He was not convincing at all. There is also zero characterisation in this book. Even the narrator - I can't tell you a thing about him. He's the most soulless character ever thought up. He has all this time to think and grow and develop as a human being and he does none of that. He just stands in dreary stuffy rooms drinking whiskey and speculating that life is meaningless. At one point, he says he loved a woman named Jenny and she put him in an institution because she thought he was mad when he told her he knew the future. She's never mentioned again for 300 pages. Finally, it turns out she's married to Vincent. Harry says he's heartbroken, and…I’ve pretty much worded it the way the book did. That’s as deep as it gets. I also found it incredible that every character happened to be brilliant at quantum physics. Isn't that convenient? Everyone was an elitist middle-class snob, as well - and there were a LOT of them: there was a new character in every single chapter – I don't think anyone but Vincent was ever seen again in future chapters. There was no one to hold onto. And when I say chapters, I mean segments of 1-3 pages. That's how long every chapter was, and they all went nowhere. They just dropped off into nothing. Turn the page - scene over - characters gone - why did I read it? This is without even touching on the attempted sci-fi elements to the novel that are not thought through or explained at all. For example, Vincent says he's inventing a machine called a 'quantum mirror' that will allow you to realise you're actually God. That's about all the explanation we're given. There's no visual description. There's no science. There's no philosophical insight. There's no...ANYTHING. I must have read that section ten times before I was willing to accept that the author didn't bother to think this idea through. It isn't even an idea; it's an idea of an idea. A lot of other reviewers here said the science and philosophy went over their heads. No, it didn't. The ideas presented in this book are actually very basic; the author rehashed a bundle of clichéd pop-science without much original insight. The reason these concepts confused other reviewers is that they're so badly 'explained' it's clear the author herself doesn't know what she's talking about. They didn't relate to anything else that was going on, either. What bothers me most is that this book was promoted as a time travel story. It's NOT A TIME TRAVEL STORY. He repeats his life over and over again. He's not jumping back and forth through time. Yet the author decided to write it as if he did, so you had no idea what was going on. Back and forth, back and forth - the only reason I can think of for her doing this is to disguise the fact that nothing happened. I also have to note that it speaks volumes that all the fans who take the time to comment on my review are hostile, nasty and think it's appropriate to make personal attacks on me without having met me. You're welcome to your opinions, but I'm deleting any abusive comments - not because my OPINIONS are 'wrong' or I'm 'too stupid to know how to read' (honestly, someone has thought it okay to say that). Those are the types of people driven to defend this novel - just another reason I HATE this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily (Books with Emily Fox)

    I'm a little torn as to how to review this book. Obviously, I liked it since I gave it 4 stars. I even think this would be a great movie! I love the premise and I really wasn't expecting this. This Sci-Fi/Thriller really intrigued me but at the same time, some parts were a bit slow. It makes sense if you think that we're literally talking about 15 lives though. A lot will happen but the back and forth was a bit much sometimes. Overall I totally recommend it if the summary interests you! **SMALL SPO I'm a little torn as to how to review this book. Obviously, I liked it since I gave it 4 stars. I even think this would be a great movie! I love the premise and I really wasn't expecting this. This Sci-Fi/Thriller really intrigued me but at the same time, some parts were a bit slow. It makes sense if you think that we're literally talking about 15 lives though. A lot will happen but the back and forth was a bit much sometimes. Overall I totally recommend it if the summary interests you! **SMALL SPOILER ** (not really in my opinion but just in case...) I was a little disappointed that there was so many other kalachakra, anyone else?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    This was a fascinating SF novel! 4.5 stars. Harry August lives his life, over ... and over ... and over. His memory gradually returns to him when he's a toddler in each life. The first time his prior memories reawaken, in his second life, he thinks he's insane and ends up committing suicide when he's only about seven, only to find himself starting all over again in a third life. Since clearly the suicide route doesn't solve his problem, he gets down to the business of trying to figure out how to This was a fascinating SF novel! 4.5 stars. Harry August lives his life, over ... and over ... and over. His memory gradually returns to him when he's a toddler in each life. The first time his prior memories reawaken, in his second life, he thinks he's insane and ends up committing suicide when he's only about seven, only to find himself starting all over again in a third life. Since clearly the suicide route doesn't solve his problem, he gets down to the business of trying to figure out how to best live his life lives. One of the beauties of Harry's repeated lives is that it lets us explore how many different directions this type of time travel could go, and all the wrinkles that would develop: How much can you gamble on sure things and get away with it? Do you look for the same person to love each time? Do you try to assassinate Hitler or save JFK? Would it work? Should you even try? In his fourth life Harry tries sharing his secret with others and ends up tangling with people who want to use his knowledge of future events for their own purposes. The one good thing that comes out of this process is that he discovers that there are others like him. They call themselves the Kalachakra, which is a Buddhist wheel of time concept: or Ouroborans, after the snake eating its own tail: The Kalachakra have formed secret clubs and try to help each other out, especially during their difficult early childhood years. Club members can (very slowly) pass questions back and forth through time: a young person will give a message to another member when he's old, so that when he is born again he can in turn pass the message to another member who is at the end of her life - and vice versa. And so future connects to past, older to younger. Like any society, they have their rules - which include not doing anything that will drastically change the future. But someone, somewhere, is breaking the rules, and the message is passed down the line from the future: "The world is ending, sooner and sooner. And we don't know why." The first half of the novel is more of an exploration of the ramifications of this type of life, but it takes an interesting turn in the second half, into kind of a multi-life espionage thriller, as Harry tries to find out the reasons for this looming global catastrophe. But his involvement leads to more trouble than he could have imagined, and there's an extremely tense and exciting cat-and-mouse hunt in the later chapters that kept me up far too late. It’s interesting that the premise here is so similar to Life After Life - it even takes place roughly during the same time period in the early to late 1900's - except that in this book we have the Groundhog Day aspect of no loss of memory with rebirth. This book isn't as "literary" as Life After Life and I’m sure that many readers won’t like it nearly as well as that one. But this novel did have a fair amount of unexpected depth that was welcome, and - despite a number of plot weaknesses - I just had so much more fun reading this book than the much bleaker (and far more repetitive) Life After Life. The plot weaknesses are pretty spoilerish, so read at your own risk:(view spoiler)[ 1. You have to be able to accept the premise that too-early technological development invariably leads to disaster. 2. One of the characters is trying to develop a machine that will, in some nebulous way, give all the answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything; this machine is compared to finding or becoming like God. It was a bit of a stretch for me. 3. You can permanently erase an Ouroboran’s memory by a type of electroshock therapy; which is fine, except that the erasing process doesn’t work for characters like Harry who have photographic memories. 4. And finally, a major plot point turns on the idea that if you kill a ouroboran while he or she is in utero, before birth, that person will never be reborn again. (hide spoiler)] These last two plot elements definitely struck me as more convenient than plausible. So these pulled my rating down. I keep thinking that logically this is closer to a four star book than a fiver, but it just captured my imagination and reading it gave me a lot of joy. So I'm rounding up, just because I want to. Content advisory: Frequent violence (including torture, murder and attempted murder) and a fair number of F-bombs. Lots of amoral and immoral characters.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Craig Allen

    1.5 stars. Never have I ever been so happy to finish a book. Reading this one was an absolute chore, but I just couldn't quit because I hate quitting books. And I wanted to see how it ended, so I guess I did care to an extent. It dragged on and on and on and so much history stuff and rambling. I thought it was this terrible book, a cure for insomnia, until I got on here and saw all the 5 star reviews. Maybe it was just not my cup of tea. I will say it picked up in the last 30% or so and the firs 1.5 stars. Never have I ever been so happy to finish a book. Reading this one was an absolute chore, but I just couldn't quit because I hate quitting books. And I wanted to see how it ended, so I guess I did care to an extent. It dragged on and on and on and so much history stuff and rambling. I thought it was this terrible book, a cure for insomnia, until I got on here and saw all the 5 star reviews. Maybe it was just not my cup of tea. I will say it picked up in the last 30% or so and the first 20% was good, but the middle was a big bore. It's the story of a type of person that lives their lives over and over after their death, no matter how they die, and what happens when someone in the group attempts to change the world, which is a big no-no. A great idea for a story, but really rambled too much for me. Kind of like this review. :) Definitely not recommended for anyone that has any sort of A-D-D.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Wow, whatever I was expecting, it definitely wasn't this. It's historical, it's science fictional, it's a spy novel, it's a long episode of DW sans the time & space travel, it's a spiteful letter of twisted friendships and vengeance. WHAT DOESN'T HAPPEN IN THIS BOOK?! Wow, whatever I was expecting, it definitely wasn't this. It's historical, it's science fictional, it's a spy novel, it's a long episode of DW sans the time & space travel, it's a spiteful letter of twisted friendships and vengeance. WHAT DOESN'T HAPPEN IN THIS BOOK?!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Luffy

    This is a book that draws inspiration from both Groundhog Day and an episode of X-Files whose name escapes me for now. Harry August is a tough negociator. Whenever Harry relives a section of his life he tries hard to do his best to improve his lot. Yes, the main character relives his childhood and does his best to make amends to change his past experiences. I thought the premise was something slightly stale that needed to be addressed to make more of an impact. But I forget that this book is very This is a book that draws inspiration from both Groundhog Day and an episode of X-Files whose name escapes me for now. Harry August is a tough negociator. Whenever Harry relives a section of his life he tries hard to do his best to improve his lot. Yes, the main character relives his childhood and does his best to make amends to change his past experiences. I thought the premise was something slightly stale that needed to be addressed to make more of an impact. But I forget that this book is very much beloved by the Goodreads reviewing community. Maybe I've this reaction because I recently watched Source Code, a sci fi movie with the same flaws as this book. The reason I'm not delving into the fabric itself of the story is that you can't go into details in this case without getting spoilery. Also, I'm a bit puzzled as to why I didn't like this book as much as others. Before I forget, the book Dark Matter too is a similar, vaguely so, but the impression is imprinted enough to get a tired, clicheed, deja vu feeling. This book is subpar IMHO, and though 3 stars is nothing to sneer at, the story doesn't warrant a greater score.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christina - Recipe & a Read

    3, I really wanted my 100th review to be a 5-star read but alas, this was not it stars!! Full review featured on my blog Recipe and a Read! Harry August appears to be just a normal man. Born, living, dying like anyone else you’d see on the streets. The only difference is that Harry August isn’t a normal man, he’s a kalachakra. A person who is reborn at the same point in time over and over again with his memories remaining intact. As Harry’s eleventh life is coming to a close a little girl, perche 3, I really wanted my 100th review to be a 5-star read but alas, this was not it stars!! Full review featured on my blog Recipe and a Read! Harry August appears to be just a normal man. Born, living, dying like anyone else you’d see on the streets. The only difference is that Harry August isn’t a normal man, he’s a kalachakra. A person who is reborn at the same point in time over and over again with his memories remaining intact. As Harry’s eleventh life is coming to a close a little girl, perched on the edge of his death bed tells Harry that as each cycle of his life closes the end of the world is coming sooner and sooner. This message has been passed down from child to adult, child to adult, over and over again ultimately reaching Harry. This little girl charges Harry with helping keep the apocalypse from coming to fruition. The world is ending, as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster. Unfortunately, I found The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August to be tantamount to watching cement dry for the majority of the read. This could be my own fault, I started this book, couldn’t get into it, put it down and didn’t listen to my instincts and came back to it only to find that my original assertion that this book wasn’t for me was definitely correct. Ah, why can I not trust my gut sometimes. A good portion of the start of this book revolves around the ins and outs of what it means to be reborn over and over with your memories. How Harry handles different situations, how telling another person and the subsequent interest of the government and other nefarious organizations affect that life. North discusses what it’s like to be a child who is both “six years old and one hundred and fifty” along with the grief, alienation, joy and excitement to be found in living such a life. The range of emotion and sheer imagination that went into this was truly incredible and for the most part, I enjoyed these aspects. What is the point of me? Either to change a world–many, many worlds, each touched by the choices I make in my life, for every deed a consequence, and in every love and every sorrow truth–or nothing at all. There is a long list of things that didn’t work for me. As I mentioned earlier, this book moves slower than molasses in January. However, I’ve read slow books and still walked away loving them. What really lost me here are the numerous plot holes. If you’re going to write something of this scope, you’re also running the risk of falling into plot hole traps for the sake of convenience. You can’t eliminate the laws of physics because it doesn’t fit with your story line – you’ve got to think through that story line to make these two things fit. An example of this is that North wants death to be simultaneously a big deal and a small issue for kalachakra. However, you can’t have Harry being endlessly cavalier about death, while also touting that our hero is in danger. The problem with time travel and alternate universes is it takes a lot of intricate thought to create a story line that doesn’t fall to pieces upon closer inspection. Kalachakra have a “no interference” policy, i.e. you can’t have someone living their life out and then killing Hitler because it would change too many aspects and could end the life line of another. However, Harry can marry different people, serve in wars, then not serve in wars, change small things, change seemingly larger things but there isn’t any consistency. Who determines what’s a “big deal” to change and what isn’t? Time is not wisdom; wisdom is not intellect. My last and final gripe is this: Harry August was a boring AF narrator and MC. I just couldn’t get into his inner monologues and to be a person who is born over and over with your memories intact and still be a snooze fest seems like more work than just being interesting. So I don’t think I need to tell anyone that this wasn’t my favorite read. I’m always hesitant to negatively review things because I’m no author and the scope of writing an entire novel I find supremely impressive. While this one wasn’t for me, I could see this being fun for others – especially a book club given the various details going on in this read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    …fifteen reasons to read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August 1. The Book (or, the short review). It is a fun, fast paced, endlessly readable novel. 2. The Premise. You live, you die, and that’s the end of the road. Except, that’s not quite it for the Ouroborans, who live, die, and are reborn to relive their lives. Think of the Ouroborans as those whose lives end at their beginning. 3. The Lead Character. Harry August is compelling, relatable, and a guy I loved to root for throughout the entire …fifteen reasons to read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August 1. The Book (or, the short review). It is a fun, fast paced, endlessly readable novel. 2. The Premise. You live, you die, and that’s the end of the road. Except, that’s not quite it for the Ouroborans, who live, die, and are reborn to relive their lives. Think of the Ouroborans as those whose lives end at their beginning. 3. The Lead Character. Harry August is compelling, relatable, and a guy I loved to root for throughout the entire read. Despite being an 800-year-old being, he’s surprisingly down to earth and still trying to figure out *best stoner voice* what does it all mean, man? 4. The Other Characters. The supporting cast of Harry’s unique family, the other Ouroborans, and even the minor characters are brought to life by North’s deft hand. 5. The Villain Or should I say antagonist? His motivations are not entirely dastardly and, indeed, offer a thoughtful counterpoint to Harry’s philosophy. Instead of this character being a mustache-twirling cliché, he’s a well thought out foil. 6. The Similarities I found this had touches of Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and Atkinson’s Life After Life, though only insofar as they both deal with reincarnation. I understand that another buzz novel of 2016, Dark Matter, also deals with alternate timelines and questionable decisions. I do plan on reading Dark Matter, but this book nicely sated my hunger for the alternate timeline genre (which I’m sure I just made up). 7. The Differences There’s something unique about this story, and I think its individuality is due to the titular character. There’s concepts that may sound similar, but Harry August’s journey is different enough that I never felt as if I were retreading old ground. Think of the aforementioned books like a hotdog: the bun may be the same, but the meat and condiments are unique to each hotbook/bookdog. 8. The New Twist on a Timeless (eh? eh?) Genre. You know how some time travel stories play loose and fast with their rules? Not so in North’s novel. She establishes rules that are strictly upheld throughout the entire read. There’s no deus ex machina, no heretofore-unknown aspect of time travel. She sticks to her guns and delivers a take on the genre that feels fresh. 9. The World Tour. This novel moves from England to the furthest reaches of Russia, spends some time in China before hitching a ride to America. I mean, a guy can’t live endless lives and not travel a bit, amirite? 10. The Short Chapters. There’s something very bingeable about short chapters. I was studying for a massive surgical exam during a lot of my reading, but I was always able to read a chapter or two before drifting off to sleep. When I was finally able to sit down this weekend, I couldn’t help but read just one more chapter. 11. The Heartfelt Story. It’s so easy for science fiction and fantasy novels to put their cool concepts in the front of the story and have the character work suffer. Hey, I like those novels too! But North delivers both compelling character work and character-motivated plot alongside great concepts. 12.The Lack of Laser Beams. By that I mean, this is a pretty grounded sci-fi. The high concept stuff deals more with extrapolation of theories in physics (which I confess to knowing very little about) than Star Wars-esque battles. 13. The Combat. You’ll find no swordfights, no gunplay, and only passing physical violence. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August plays more with subterfuge, science, romance, and torture than it ever does typical action-fare. 14. The Multiple Genres. I got to thinking after I finished the book: in which mind box would I place it? It certainly has a sci-fi premise, but it also works as a character study. But then I get to thinking about the progress of science versus human cost, the rivalry of two powerful men, the straight-up spy sections and I find it difficult to categorize. Luckily, it all melds together like the disparate ingredients in a good stew. 15. The Writing? North (a pseudonym) is a great writer. I loved her turns of phrases, her believable dialogue, and the way she could bring a scene to life with lively exposition. Though I was never sent to a dictionary, I never felt as if I were reading a novel that was too simple. The pacing was phenomenal, and North has a way of dropping you off the edge of a cliff at a chapter’s end, only to reveal your safety harness at the last moment in the next chapter. It is a pleasure to read a novel that is not only fun, but a piece of well-constructed writing. There you have it…

  13. 5 out of 5

    B Schrodinger

    Read the blurb and you are going to think like I did. Hasn't 'Groundhog Day' and Ken Grimwood's Replay finished this genre? It's a great premise, but more of a novelty. But then I thought that going into the recent film 'About Time' which charmed my pants off (nothing to do with a goofy red-headed protagonist with the ability to travel through time, no siree). Surely this novelty situation has been done by now. Well maybe now it has, because after reading this novel I sure as hell know it certainl Read the blurb and you are going to think like I did. Hasn't 'Groundhog Day' and Ken Grimwood's Replay finished this genre? It's a great premise, but more of a novelty. But then I thought that going into the recent film 'About Time' which charmed my pants off (nothing to do with a goofy red-headed protagonist with the ability to travel through time, no siree). Surely this novelty situation has been done by now. Well maybe now it has, because after reading this novel I sure as hell know it certainly wasn't before. While the premise is not fresh, Claire explores the implications of the scenario to the extreme. She pushes this mini-genre to it's absolute limits. She explores this scenario with an intelligence and inventiveness that astounds. Take any good SF story that creates an interesting premise and after you finish it you daydream about the situation and think 'wouldn't it be cool if they did this' or 'maybe if the author went in this direction they could have explored this aspect a little more'. I dread to think that I cannot do that with this book. Claire has managed to delve into any possible imagination and with the unique style of the premise has been able to present all of these possible ideas. Yes you can attribute some of this potential to the genre, but Claire sure brings the ideas and milks the potentials to the nth degree. I also admire the writing in other ways. Firstly there is science in here. And even projected near-future science. And while it is obvious that Claire is not a scientist and the real concepts were not explained too scientifically, the author managed to tread the line of having science in a story that was entirely credible to a scientist. There was no showing off. There were no inconsistencies. There was no injecting random scientific jargon. This is how non-scientific SF should be written. Another aspect that I admire is that the author did not fall into a most obvious trap. And this is probably one that is spoilerific so I won't name it. But suffice it to say that most authors of lesser talent would have fallen into that trap so hard and undermined the whole beauty of this book. Indeed had this book been a television show or a comic book that hole would have been fallen into most definitely. So while it may not have the nostalgia and the charm of the other takes on this concept, it certainly makes up for it in inventiveness and the extreme pushing of all ideas and concepts that eventuate from this situation.

  14. 5 out of 5

    carol.

    I really loved Touch and thought it quite engrossing. I've had this on my shelves for ages, waiting for the right mood to dive in. Alas; either pandemic or the wrong mood. As it is about a man who is always reborn after he dies to the exact same life--think Groundhog's Day only with one's whole life--it just didn't work for me. I found it too repetitive, even as North tried to pull interest by working in secret societies, government agents, madmen and world cataclysms. I invested a lot in the be I really loved Touch and thought it quite engrossing. I've had this on my shelves for ages, waiting for the right mood to dive in. Alas; either pandemic or the wrong mood. As it is about a man who is always reborn after he dies to the exact same life--think Groundhog's Day only with one's whole life--it just didn't work for me. I found it too repetitive, even as North tried to pull interest by working in secret societies, government agents, madmen and world cataclysms. I invested a lot in the beginning as the narrator lives and struggles to understand what is happening to him as he relives his first few lives. This portion of the book is almost like historical fiction, as he talks about growing up a bastard and then fighting in the Second World War. There's also a lot of Narrator Thinkiness (aka 'rumination') in this book that didn't work for QuarantineBrain either, as the narrator works out what things all mean, what it means to change history, and if there are other people like himself. I finally quit with only mild prejudice at page 139, chapter 33. Although, I did jump ahead to find out what happened, which made me mildly even less inclined to go back and finish. I think I'll keep it on the shelves longer and see if it takes at a later date, when all my own days aren't so repetitive.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    I'm almost speechless. This is one hell of a nonlinear exploration of a repeated life, as can be deduced from the title, but it's also a lot more. It's also a lot better, too. I loved the premise from the get go. All Groundhog Day but stretched for a whole lifetime, and Harry isn't alone. There are others with effective immortality sharing info through repeated but changeable timelines, allowing for a linear continuation of a setting that can be changed with every single revision. Claire North di I'm almost speechless. This is one hell of a nonlinear exploration of a repeated life, as can be deduced from the title, but it's also a lot more. It's also a lot better, too. I loved the premise from the get go. All Groundhog Day but stretched for a whole lifetime, and Harry isn't alone. There are others with effective immortality sharing info through repeated but changeable timelines, allowing for a linear continuation of a setting that can be changed with every single revision. Claire North did an absolutely fantastic job exploring all the ramifications and rules of the existence, but more importantly, she spun a fantastic tale of exploration and intrigue, revenge, and implacable willpower. Whatever might have begun as a rather humdrum initial character quickly became one of the most fascinating and deep character studies I've had the pleasure to read in quite some time. More importantly, I didn't even have to stew over it, because the writing was as clear as crystal despite the inherent risk of an inherently complex tale falling apart due to being told out of order. Of course, this was an absolutely fantastic novel. It didn't fall apart at all. More importantly, it sucked me right in even as I wanted to be a part of the premise and the world and DO things there. For a long while, there were no distractions that I had to focus on exclusively, and I liked that aspect. Later on, this changed entirely, and it was smart and intense. The later development was very warm, with an extremely sympathetic and likeable villain. I was pretty amazed that it took several lifetimes to finally wrap up satisfactorily, and it truly did satisfy. This was a serious piece of literature. I'm surprised and kinda shocked that it didn't make the Hugo list last year. If I had this lifetime to do over, I'd make sure everyone knew this was a serious contender and make sure people knew it was a shoe-in. As it is, I'm pretty sure this novel will stand the test of time, and if there is any justice in the world, people will still be mimicking or talking about it 20 years from now. Yes. It is that good. Truly excellent depth and exploration of both story and character, and a premise that is superior to almost any time travel tale I've ever read. I got done with the Lives of Tao series not too long ago, and I really wanted to compare the two because they were close in time and subject, but after reflection, I have to say that this novel is superior in style and seriousness. The other was just plain fun. This one made me believe.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bob/Sally

    There's at least one book each year that strives to be the next big mainstream/genre crossover . . . one book that tries to achieve a sort of mainstream literary respectability, while still managing to resonate with genre fans. More often than not, those crossovers don't work, and just end up disappointing one group, while alienating the other. As such, I'm always a bit reluctant to give those books a read, but read them I do, hoping that, this time, there really is a crossover success in the ma There's at least one book each year that strives to be the next big mainstream/genre crossover . . . one book that tries to achieve a sort of mainstream literary respectability, while still managing to resonate with genre fans. More often than not, those crossovers don't work, and just end up disappointing one group, while alienating the other. As such, I'm always a bit reluctant to give those books a read, but read them I do, hoping that, this time, there really is a crossover success in the making. With that said, I am pleased to declare that The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is indeed the first crossover success of the year. Whoever Claire North really is, she (or he) demonstrates a flair for literary magic here, coupled with an honest love for the genre. At its roots, this is a hard science fiction novel, one that deals with the complexities and paradoxes of time travel, as well as the intellectual and political drivers of scientific progress. In different hands it could have been dense and dry, boring to some, and bewildering to others. Fortunately, Claire North is able to easily convey such lofty concepts and explore them in a conversational manner. There is a definite 'geek' factor to the conversations between Harry and Vincent, which are often as amusing as they are fascinating, but the discussion never goes over the head of mainstream readers. It's a smart book, but one that tries very hard not to boast about its own intelligence. On the surface, this is a mainstream novel about one man's journey (okay, journeys) through life. It's a story of love, loss, triumph, sorrow. In fact, there's an almost Dickensian feel to the story of Harry's birth, his complicated parentage, and his ever-changing idea of family. For, you see, no matter how long or short his life, Harry is reborn to the same parents, in the exact same situation, every time . . . but with the memories of all his past lives. Everything else about him changes - who he loves, what he does, how he dies - but he always begins the same way. There's a sad inevitability to his life, in that no matter what he does he will always die to begin again, but there's also a wondrous sort of potential in how he chooses to live each new life. Just beneath that literary surface, nurtured by those genre roots, is the heart of the story. As we quickly learn, Harry is not alone in his cycle of rebirth and remembrance. In fact, there's a legendary/mythical Chronus Club that has arisen over the centuries to bring them all together, an informal group that's as much about playing elaborate games as it is about maintaining the temporal status quo. While members are free to dabble with possibilities and experiment with new experiences, there are key events that must be allowed to proceed as they always have before. That means no assassinating Hitler before he comes to power, no preventing JFK's assassination, and no interference in the fate of the Twin Towers. Of course, when you're talking about immortals, reborn with lifetimes of memories, it's no surprise that one or two should be tempted to break the rules . . . which brings us to Vincent. Without spoiling too much, Vincent is a man much like Harry, except he's not content with merely living one life after another. He's begun advancing technological progress across the globe, picking up where he left off with each new life, bringing progress to mankind faster and faster, with an eye towards becoming something more than just physically immortal. Burdened with the knowledge that Vincent's efforts are hastening the end of the world, bringing it closer each and every time, Harry takes it upon himself to interfere. It is their complex relationship that ultimately drives the narrative, keeping the reader engaged, and providing the true emotional and intellectual heart of the story. Here are two men who understand each other better than anybody alive, who share so many of the same hopes and dreams, and who have been friends, allies, adversaries, and mortal enemies, depending upon the life lived. It's the strength of Harry as character that keeps us engaged, and his strength as a narrator that keeps us from getting lost in the sometimes scattered recollections of his lives. Just as importantly for a book involving time travel and resurrection, there's genuine tension to the story, and honest surprises along the way. Even the final confrontation is perfect, tying up all fifteen lives in a manner that not only makes sense, but which is as ingenious as the story demands. All said, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an exceptionally well-written novel, one that flows quickly and easily in spite of the lofty ideals sometimes being explored, and which offers something of substance for all readers, no matter how their shelves may lean. Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Putnam

    The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. 12-06-2019 I understand how this book would not be for everyone. It’s a story of resurrection. Each time Harry August dies he awakens in the same year as his first life and starts over again. At about age six he reacquires all the knowledge from his previous life. The others of his kind seek each other out. Who hasn’t wished for a second chance, “Knowing what I know now?” Of course, there has to be conflict that carries the story forward and there is a bad The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. 12-06-2019 I understand how this book would not be for everyone. It’s a story of resurrection. Each time Harry August dies he awakens in the same year as his first life and starts over again. At about age six he reacquires all the knowledge from his previous life. The others of his kind seek each other out. Who hasn’t wished for a second chance, “Knowing what I know now?” Of course, there has to be conflict that carries the story forward and there is a bad guy. He’s someone of similar ilk who wants to find out the true meaning of the universe through knowledge and by building the, Quantum Mirror. To accomplish this, the bad guy has to accelerate the knowledge in his life time which each time he does it the world gets torn apart a little more. And interesting complications is that the bad guy is also best friends with Harry August. I really loved this premise. It really worked for me. The author did a marvelous job telling a very complicated story and I was never confused or lost. This book, in different ways of course, reminded me of Little Big Man by Berger and at the same time To Where Your Scattered Bodies Go, by Farmer, both books I absolutely loved. This book could easily be a series. For the readers who like this type of story, I highly recommend it. David Putnam author of The Bruno Johnson series.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Rey

    WOW WOW WOW! Absolutely LOVED this! My mind is spinning right now.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Q2

    Hot damn. Good God. This book was fan-tas-tic. I read it through NetGalley before it was published. I finished it in one and a half days and as I type this, my husband is reading it. What began as me-forcing-him to sit down and read it turned into voluntary enslavement within the first few pages. The main character of this book is clearly--Harry August. He is one of a few people on our Earth who live their lives over and over again. They call themselves kalachakras or ouraboras. (I can't check my Hot damn. Good God. This book was fan-tas-tic. I read it through NetGalley before it was published. I finished it in one and a half days and as I type this, my husband is reading it. What began as me-forcing-him to sit down and read it turned into voluntary enslavement within the first few pages. The main character of this book is clearly--Harry August. He is one of a few people on our Earth who live their lives over and over again. They call themselves kalachakras or ouraboras. (I can't check my spelling on that one because, as I said, the husband is currently absorbed.) What I thought might be a book about his lives, and the lives of others like him, quickly becomes an intricate action/drama story. Someone, sometime is changing history for the worse and it's up to Harry to figure out how to discover what's going on and put a stop to it. North does an amazing job of writing Harry as a believable, immensely likable protagonist; he grows up poor, sort of orphaned, in England. As Harry globe trots and literally lives 'different' lives, North's imagery of each person and place only adds to the richness of this crazy story. I haven't read a book quite like this, with this premise and this sort of forward-momentum. I'm so glad someone had this idea and had the talent to execute it well. I leave you with an excerpt from the publisher's web site: "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. It has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back through generations from a thousand years forward in time. The message is that the world is ending, and we cannot prevent it. So now it’s up to you.’ "

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lotte

    For most of my time reading this, I didn't think it was necessarily the book's fault that I wasn't enjoying it. I was convinced that it wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't my cup of tea. But now that I've finished it, I'm like "You know what? This is actually a pretty bad book after all." And here's why: - Harry August has literally zero personality and for the entire book, he felt more like a walking concept than an actual person. Like I said in one of my status updates, it's actually astounding t For most of my time reading this, I didn't think it was necessarily the book's fault that I wasn't enjoying it. I was convinced that it wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't my cup of tea. But now that I've finished it, I'm like "You know what? This is actually a pretty bad book after all." And here's why: - Harry August has literally zero personality and for the entire book, he felt more like a walking concept than an actual person. Like I said in one of my status updates, it's actually astounding to me how Harry lived through all of these lives and managed to develop not even an ounce of personality through all of them. You'd also think he'd be a lot wiser after hundreds of years of living, but he still made some incredibly dumb decisions. Speaking of characters, most of the other characters were pretty bland as well and frankly, I didn't care for any of them. - The whole structure of the book is way off. For the first half we seem to aimlessly jump through Harry's various first lives, which made me personally feel even more distanced from the story and its characters. - While the whole concept for the story had lots of potential, it ultimately lost itself in utterly boring discussions of philosophy and science. - The plot itself didn't develop for quite some time and in the end it resolved in such an unsatisfactory way that I was actually a little angry that I wasted so much time on this book. During my first time trying to read this, I thought it just wasn't the right time for me to read it and put it on hold (see my first review down below), but as it turns out it's never the right time to read this, because it's just a bad book. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ------ I got roughly halfway through this book, but now I'm putting it on hold for a while. It's just not the right time for me to read this. To copy one of my status updates: "I feel like the problem I'm having with this book is that it's trying to do too much. It's trying to incorporate all of Harry's lives, while also dealing with issues like world politics, ethics, science, philosophy... the list is endless. I get that the major theme of this book is the immense complexity of life and I think that's very interesting, I just don't think it's handled in a way that's fun or engaging to read about." I still think the story has lots of potential though, so I'll definitely come back to this soon!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Iulia

    I went in expecting to love this book. The premise is definitely mysterious and intriguing, and the first chapter sets up the story beautifully, with just enough vagueness to keep you interested. However, I ended up just mildly enjoying it, thus the 3 star rating. Harry August is a "kalachakra", a person who relives their life from birth to death multiple times, while keeping the memories and knowledge gathered during their previous lives. There are some other kalachakras in the world, most of th I went in expecting to love this book. The premise is definitely mysterious and intriguing, and the first chapter sets up the story beautifully, with just enough vagueness to keep you interested. However, I ended up just mildly enjoying it, thus the 3 star rating. Harry August is a "kalachakra", a person who relives their life from birth to death multiple times, while keeping the memories and knowledge gathered during their previous lives. There are some other kalachakras in the world, most of them organized under a secret society. We get from the title that Harry August lives at least fifteen lives, which makes him over a thousand years old (even though all those years are spent in the 20th century) (view spoiler)[ Harry is also a mnemonic, meaning that he remembers everything that has happened in his previous lives perfectly. It is logically evident that this particularity is bound to make most of its recipients crazy and grandiose after a few centuries of self-reflection. This book is simply presenting what would naturally happen if someone, especially an intelligent and ambitious person, would have this ability. Vincent's development is very predictable in this regard. His "immortality" is bound to make him a megalomaniac after a few centuries. On the other side, Harry's ability develops differently, allowing him extreme patience and meticulousness in his purpose of stopping Vincent. However, the book is titled "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August", which might not be such a long time when compared with other kalachakras. The main question that stuck with me in the end was: How many lifetimes would take for Harry to go crazy himself? It is revealed that mnemonics are not susceptible to Forgetting, so Harry's fate after a hundred, thousand, ten thousand lifetimes is certainly food for thought. (hide spoiler)] The main drawback of this book is that it is very slow-paced. The first half, which I understand was important from a character development point of view, was however pretty boring. Once the action started, it was a bit cliche and predictable. I kept expecting a twist which I never got. Furthermore, what probably contributed significantly to my lack of enthusiasm was that the setting and the time period are already not my favorite. On the plus side, both Harry and Vincent are well-developed characters, and their relationship is the highlight of this novel. There is also a philosophical dimension which arises from the immortality of the kalachakras, especially in the context of a fixed time period. What is the purpose of these people? Do they live in a universe where there is an infinity of alternate realities and they are simply able to access the memories of their counterparts from other realities? If so, do the universes where they mess everything up are destroyed after their death? If there is an infinite number of universes, what does it matter if a few are destroyed? These questions, while confusing, are definitely thought provoking. This book is definitely well written and decently thought out, especially since it features time travel, whose ramifications and complexity are notoriously hard to get right. The characters are well developed and interesting, and if you don't mind the slow pace, you might be in for a treat. I would have honestly preferred to see something similar but without the "living the same life over and over again" dimension. While interesting in its own right, this setup is very limited and can easily get repetitive.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Added 8/3/2018: Here is a really great interview with the author (real name: Catherine Webb) from a podcast I enjoy. Now back to your regularly scheduled review from 2015. ~~~ "The world is ending. The message has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back down generations from a thousand years forward in time. The world is ending and we cannot prevent it. So now it's up to you." Typically this would be the moment when our hero-protagonist would leap into action and save the day Added 8/3/2018: Here is a really great interview with the author (real name: Catherine Webb) from a podcast I enjoy. Now back to your regularly scheduled review from 2015. ~~~ "The world is ending. The message has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back down generations from a thousand years forward in time. The world is ending and we cannot prevent it. So now it's up to you." Typically this would be the moment when our hero-protagonist would leap into action and save the day. However, in this case, our hero-protagonist, Harry August, is 78 and in the late stages of cancer. Like most people who are 78 and in the late stages of cancer he died and the book ended there Or would have if Harry was not a kalachakra. An ever returning soul, Harry is literally reborn after his death(s), returned to his humble beginnings in life with a memory of all his previous ones. He is one of many who possess this trait, though why it occurs and who it occurs to is a bit of a mystery. It is said there are three stages of life for those of us who live our lives in circles. These are rejection, exploration and acceptance. Of course rejection, especially in the second life, is typically characterized by insanity: As the full powers of my adult consciousness returned to my child's body, I fell first into a confusion, then an agony, then a doubt, then a despair, then a screaming, then a shrieking, and finally, aged seven years old, I was committed to St. Margot's Asylum for Unfortunates, where I frankly believed myself to belong. Thankfully there is an organization of kalachakra that look after their own, the Chronus Club, providing support and rescue from the tedium of being five years old with a mind of a three hundred year old. Of course this club is well a well kept secret with very little of its activities being known by "linears": "Well, it depends on which text you're reading what they have. Some say conspiratorial meetings in white robes, others go for orgies at which the next generation of their kin are created. I don't believe in either, because the Klan has really dented the white-robe fashion down South, and orgies are everyone's first bet." Eventually Harry comes to terms with his existence and explores the possibilities his condition confers. Traveling the world, learning languages, expanding his mind with philosophy and mathematics and science. Of course he does overlook somethings: At these words, Ugly Bill grabbed me in a bear hug from behind and, not for the first time, I wondered why in over two hundred years I'd never got round to learning some form of martial art. Of course there are rules for kalachakra."...you can do whatever you like so long as you don't bugger it up for the next lot. So no nuking New York, please, or shooting Roosevelt, even if for experimental purposes. We just can't handle the hassle." Which sadly means no killing off Hitler (a rule that reminded me of the awesome short story Wikihistory). This book was an excellent blend of the retelling Harry's first fifteen lives (as the title suggests), exploring the culture and characters of the kalachakra, and, in the last, half, trying to save the world. I greatly enjoyed North's time travel dynamic. Messages can be passed up and down through history by either leaving them in a permanent medium (like a stone tablet) for future generations, or daisy chain kalachakra of vastly different ages to go back in time. Hence the young girl who delivered her warning to Harry in the 1990's effectively got the message back to the Chronus club of the early 20th century when Harry gets reborn; very imaginative and unique. North does an excellent job highlighting the main tension that drives the conflict in this book: "In a little over twenty years man will walk on the moon. Hundreds of thousands will die in Vietnam for no apparently sensible reason, dissidents will be shot, men will be tortured, women will weep and children will die. We know all of this and we do... nothing. I'm not suggesting we change the world. I'm not suggesting we know how. What will the future be if these things do not come to pass? But we must do... something." North deftly segues from interesting world building and character development to what I can only classify as an espionage thriller played out over several lifetimes; sufficed to say it was awesome. There was excellent tension, high stakes, and many devious challenges facing Harry. I was highly satisfied with how well North wove the entire fifteen lives of Harry together to inform his beliefs, actions, and outlook. All in all a stellar book. But by far the most enjoyable part of the book, for me, was a excellent dry wit. Some of my favorite passages: You know you are your own harshest critic when you dissect the potential shortcomings of your own suicide: Retrospectively, I realise that three floors are frequently not high enough to guarantee the quick, relatively painless death that such circumstances warrant, and I might easily have snapped every bone in my lower body and yet retained my consciousness intact. Thankfully, I landed on my head, and that was that. The path to hell is paved with good intentions (and some torture!): "Goddamn it, yes. Because I'm a fucking defender of democracy! Because I'm a fucking liberal-minded believer in freedom, because I'm a fucking good guy with a good heart and damn it because someone has to!" A question we have all asked ourselves: Why, in all my years in the east, had I not bothered to learn even a little kung fu? A question few people have asked: No one ever considered the question of the bladder when dealing with matters of subterfuge. A metaphor David from Steelheart would kill for: The roads weren't much to speak of, and the car's suspension had been welded in by a stonemason resentful of his change in career. I'd hate to see Pietrok-113: If Pietrok-111 was a one-horse town, Pietrok-112 was the glue factory where that horse went to die. Reason number one to avoid being a fugitive in Russia: The feeling was exhilarating at first, until the discomfort of the settling night and the damp cold eating through my boots reminded me that exhilaration held nothing over reliable hygiene and warm sheets. And these are just a few of the great bits of prose. Seriously, this book was a delight to read and I highly recommend it to one and all.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sara (sarawithoutanH)

    The concept of this book was absolutely fascinating. I would love to read about it from more characters - there's just so much that could be done with it. The writing was also fabulous. This was a random read that pleasantly surprised me. I took off a star only because I didn't love what the plot ended up fixating on toward the end, but overall it was still very good. The concept of this book was absolutely fascinating. I would love to read about it from more characters - there's just so much that could be done with it. The writing was also fabulous. This was a random read that pleasantly surprised me. I took off a star only because I didn't love what the plot ended up fixating on toward the end, but overall it was still very good.

  24. 4 out of 5

    William

    A triumph for this very young author, surprisingly mature - and fun! Superb in every way... Wonderfully written, excellent pacing, complex characters, and the use of science fiction to examine time, mortality and memory - and more. As you read towards the end, you find Ms North addressing one of the deepest questions of science: not: Can we do this, but: Should we do this. Honestly, for such a young author to address these issues so eloquently, it occurs to me that she must be like her protagonists A triumph for this very young author, surprisingly mature - and fun! Superb in every way... Wonderfully written, excellent pacing, complex characters, and the use of science fiction to examine time, mortality and memory - and more. As you read towards the end, you find Ms North addressing one of the deepest questions of science: not: Can we do this, but: Should we do this. Honestly, for such a young author to address these issues so eloquently, it occurs to me that she must be like her protagonists. You understand? (leave a comment!) Top honours to Catherine Webb, writing here as Claire North. Surely an author to watch!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Phrynne

    At first this book reminded me very much of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. The main character is reborn repeatedly in the same place to the same people but in this story Harry is able to retain all of his memories from each life and use them to change how he lives. It is a fascinating concept and the author frequently left me completely befuddled about the logistics - my fault, not hers as she explained everything really well! The main issue of course is how small changes can have repercussion At first this book reminded me very much of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. The main character is reborn repeatedly in the same place to the same people but in this story Harry is able to retain all of his memories from each life and use them to change how he lives. It is a fascinating concept and the author frequently left me completely befuddled about the logistics - my fault, not hers as she explained everything really well! The main issue of course is how small changes can have repercussions on the future world and when someone starts to make major changes by introducing inventions before they should be known, Harry steps in to prevent the end of the world. Although technically this book is not time travel it has all the same mind bending issues and Claire North handles them beautifully. A fascinating, intelligent read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bill Khaemba

    ACTUAL RATING: 4.75 Holy Fuck! “The most it ever seems we know how to do with time, is to waste it.” Predestination (Without the Incest) meets Time traveler’s wife (without the romance) add the thrill of Shutter Island I have been dying to read this ever since I had the premise from Peruse Project’s Youtube Channel (Here), I wasn’t sure if I would have ever come across the physical book but when it magically appeared on a thrift shop I had to pick i ACTUAL RATING: 4.75 Holy Fuck! “The most it ever seems we know how to do with time, is to waste it.” Predestination (Without the Incest) meets Time traveler’s wife (without the romance) add the thrill of Shutter Island I have been dying to read this ever since I had the premise from Peruse Project’s Youtube Channel (Here), I wasn’t sure if I would have ever come across the physical book but when it magically appeared on a thrift shop I had to pick it up. “There is no loss, if you cannot remember what you have lost.” The story follows Harry August who was born in 1895 and his mother passes away as soon as she gives birth to him. We follow his life as he goes on through the ups and downs that is life until his death... He is reincarnated or time starts all over again for him but weirdly he has all the memories and remembers everything, literally every detail from his previous life. This phenomenal happens quite often and at the beginning he loses his shit and kind of thinks he is crazy but soon he decides to seek out the answers to why he has a rest life button. It takes him through one of the most complex theories, to meeting unique characters and solving a very important mystery of ( What the fuck is going on ) Claire North managed to balance out Literary writing with Science fiction and it was absolutely stunning. The book was so complex and with infinite possibilities that leaves the readers scratching their heads. But when the wheels of the story start moving and you finally get a grip on the story, the pages won’t stop turning. The characters were interesting to say the least, they each sort of represented the author’s personality, some were philosophical and went on this tangent about the concept of time and quantum physics and the true meaning of life and why everything is as it is… It was so interesting to see how they explored all possibilities from Religion, Science, and History etc. Plus, the main character travels a lot, meeting avast array of colorful side characters from an Afghanistan man to a  Nigerian woman who happens to be queer to an Indian Mystic to a bad-ass Asians assassins which just felt amazing to see represented in the book. Everything is interconnected and beautifully structured. The whole book is a big plot-twist, with every decision the character makes affecting something big in the coming pages and it was thrilling to witness this come to play. “They say that the mind cannot remember pain; I say it barely matters, for even if the physical sensation is lost, our recollection of the terror that surrounds it is perfect.” The themes were endless and relevant to current situations from how war came to affect future events to questions about humanity's belief in the ever battle between religion and science. Death was obviously an overall theme and I always find it fascinating when an author plays with in fiction and Claire North did it justice. The question: "if you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self? or would you kill Hitler and how will that change everything…" “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.” How she managed to incorporate a lot of elements of Historical fiction, Sci-fi, Action, Thriller, Mystery and so much. This was one of a kind and I highly recommend it and after you read it pass it on because more people need this book in their hands :) And if you have read this book please tell me about it so we can gush or if you can recommend more time travel books or just say hi :) Happy Reading & Thanks for reading :)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    The theme of a character reliving the same life over and over will no doubt have you thinking of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life*, but this book is so much better. Perhaps simply because of the first-person narration, I developed much more of a fondness for Harry August and his multiple life stories than I ever did for Ursula Todd. “I am not one Harry August but many, a mind flicking from parallel life to parallel life...when I die, the world carries on without me, altered by my deeds, marked by The theme of a character reliving the same life over and over will no doubt have you thinking of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life*, but this book is so much better. Perhaps simply because of the first-person narration, I developed much more of a fondness for Harry August and his multiple life stories than I ever did for Ursula Todd. “I am not one Harry August but many, a mind flicking from parallel life to parallel life...when I die, the world carries on without me, altered by my deeds, marked by my presence.” Harry is a kalachakra (“time-wheel” in Tibetan Buddhism) or ouroboran – a figure who keeps coming back around in what looks to be an endless cycle of rebirths. In North’s fictional world, 1 in 500,000 are born into the condition, which often earns them persecution – but also gains them entry into the exclusive, worldwide Cronos Club. Harry, the illegitimate son of a servant girl, is born in the same manner each time – on New Year’s Day 1919, in the ladies’ restroom at Berwick-upon-Tweed rail station! – but becomes many people in his different lives: he fights in the Second World War (seven times); he tries the medical profession, God, and especially quantum physics; he is drugged in a mental institution, impersonates a Soviet propagandist in Beijing, and (my personal favorite incident, for sheer randomness) pays a visit to a clotted cream farmer in Devon. Some of the humor (e.g. “No one ever considers the question of bladder when dealing with matters of subterfuge”), as well as the more far-fetched aspects of the plot, reminded me of Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker or The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who..., but this is a much darker book overall. The dystopian aspect rather surprised me, in fact. Most members of the Cronos Club use their advanced knowledge to try to prevent murders, or win people a bit of money in the races. However, one particular kalachakra, soon to become Harry’s nemesis, takes it upon himself to introduce modern technology earlier and earlier. Just as an early ouroboran proposed the steam train in 1693, this fellow will contribute to the adoption of the PC in 1959 and the cell phone in 1975. But this “great technological surge” will have consequences, as global warming speeds up by several decades: “The world is ending, as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster.” In general, I don’t really read books that could be classed as fantasy or dystopian sci fi, but I was glad I made an exception for this literary take on the genre. Great fun. Give it a read. [I kept thinking that this book was far too good to be a debut novel...that’s because it’s not. Claire North is the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, who also writes series sci fi under the name Kate Griffin. Between those three author names she’s written about 15 books – and she’s only 32! The marketing of this book is rather clever, actually, because if it had been packaged like any of her other novels, I would have dismissed it as fantasy dreck and never given it a try.] *A phrase that appears twice (on pages 211 and 375 of the e-galley); also, a major character’s mother is late on revealed to be named Ursula.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gabi

    RTC when I stopped crying - which will not be this evening. Okay … I slept a night over it. The 5 stars still stand, but I will honestly admit that these are very emotional and personal 5 stars. Dispassionately seen it probably would be a good 4 star read. As with all time travel stories there are inconsistencies and illogical parts when one thinks too much about what is going on. So as with all time travel stories the reader just has to go along with the technicalities, which is no problem for th RTC when I stopped crying - which will not be this evening. Okay … I slept a night over it. The 5 stars still stand, but I will honestly admit that these are very emotional and personal 5 stars. Dispassionately seen it probably would be a good 4 star read. As with all time travel stories there are inconsistencies and illogical parts when one thinks too much about what is going on. So as with all time travel stories the reader just has to go along with the technicalities, which is no problem for those of us - like me - who love this subgenre. Claire North uses the jump-back-in-own-lifetime approach with the premise that all knowledge required in former lives stays and thus the people in question know about their unique condition and are in constant search about the meaning of their lives. The story is told in fast and frequent jumps within the different lives of the eponymous Harry August, a narration structure that I on the one hand love anyway, because it keeps my attention alert and my brain wheels turning. On the other hand it also helps to define the dynamic of the narration itself in that effect that it makes palpable the feeling of confusion that most certainly must play a bigger and bigger part the more lives one repeats. So happy with the topic itself, the lively structure and the subliminal feeling of something going wrong I was enjoying the novel and was sure it would end up a solid 4 stars. But then, near the end, something changed. I wasn't expecting it becoming so much character involved, so personal, so extremely touching. When the audiofile stopped (very good performance by Peter Kenny), I started to cry. Not in the way that I sometimes shed a few tears at the end of a great book that touched me - there usually I'm done after a minute and can start writing my review. No, this time I couldn't stop crying, because I felt so devastated. I wasn't even sure for whom I was crying: for Harry? For Vincent? For myself? I don't know and I don't really want to find out - whatever she did, or however she did it Claire North managed to speak to my soul bypassing any other thoughts with her depiction of one of the most complicated and deepest friendships I've ever read about. This reaction alone outweighs anything else and leads to the 5 stars - well aware that other readers may not nearly feel the same as I did. I don't want to leave without a warning: I usually don't do CWs, because I'm seldomly bothered by most of those topics, but here is a very graphic depiction of torture that turned my stomach a bit.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Harry August is a kalachakra; a person cursed or gifted depending on your point of view, to be born again over and over and over. He retains his memories from each of his previously lives yet his place of birth, family, and social status remain the same. The only thing he can change, is how soon he's able to ditch the homestead for a more promising life with those like him (he learns of others over the course of his many lives). The premise of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is intriguin Harry August is a kalachakra; a person cursed or gifted depending on your point of view, to be born again over and over and over. He retains his memories from each of his previously lives yet his place of birth, family, and social status remain the same. The only thing he can change, is how soon he's able to ditch the homestead for a more promising life with those like him (he learns of others over the course of his many lives). The premise of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is intriguing and ingenious. Time-travel, quantum physics, alternate histories, and the notion that parallel universes exists are nothing new in speculative fiction, yet the way these elements combine to form a single cohesive narrative makes you think of what could be, or has been, or will be - the need to suspend belief is left at the door as you step in. Nothing in this book screams 'too out there'. It's all scarily plausible, such is the quality of writing and the believable characters and circumstances they find themselves in. The back and forth between timelines and different character iterations within those timelines could've ended up messy and too complicated yet, somehow, it all just works. My rating: 5/5 stars. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a great read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hank

    I want to give this a 5 star but won't for a couple of reasons. One, this is too similar to Touch which I read first and loved but it cast a bit of a shadow over Harry August. The pacing was slow in the middle but outside of that, two thumbs up. I have read two books by North now and they both dwell heavily on what an individual's purpose in life is. Both use an extended life in two different ways to magnify the impact these particular individuals have as well as giving them a bit more agency in I want to give this a 5 star but won't for a couple of reasons. One, this is too similar to Touch which I read first and loved but it cast a bit of a shadow over Harry August. The pacing was slow in the middle but outside of that, two thumbs up. I have read two books by North now and they both dwell heavily on what an individual's purpose in life is. Both use an extended life in two different ways to magnify the impact these particular individuals have as well as giving them a bit more agency in the matter. What she comes up with, is of course, up for debate but friendships and relationships always end up being the lasting memories. Deeds and accomplishments are means to an end and brushed over. The people and how these immortals affect them are the core. The center of Harry August is Harry's relationship with his frenemy Vincent which is exactly what it sounds like. Opposition to Vincent's overarching goal yet enjoying working and being with him more than all others. North does a fantastic job of ending with a bit of melancholy and wistfullness. I loved the book even though I think Touch is slightly better.

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