Claire North hits it out of the park with, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Yes, this story traverses the years, the decades, the centuries experienced by one Harry August, an otherwise unremarkable man from the British Isles, save for one odd fact. He continues to live the same lifetime over, and over, and over again. Not the same life, mind you. Just the same lifetime. He is always Harry August, but his destiny is not fixed. It is flexible, inviting, terrifying, perplexing, dull, and invigorating. Whatever he wishes his life to be, it can be. But unlike the rest of us, he carries with him the memories of previous lives.
He and his kind experience the very highest level of what we might consider, insider trading of life. He knows what’s coming. He’s seen WWII up close. He’s been killed. He’s committed suicide. He’s done it all and he just keeps coming back for more.
That alone would be enough to build a worthwhile story around. But we, the reader don’t know who is and who isn’t like Harry. In time the story unfolds and reveals all to us. Yet, like Harry we have to use a life to learn the lessons that will serve our hero in the next go around. Sometimes he is victorious, sometimes he’s lost. He lives, he loves, he suffers, and he rejoices. Harry has it all, and he has it over and over again. With variations on the themes of his life, slightly changed with each new lifetime.
North goes one better, however. Rather than letting a good story stand on its own, the author injects a twist that leads the plot in a whole new direction. The clue comes in a conversation. It’s subtle, but important. Harry picks up on it. He shares his concern with the reader, as well. After lifetimes of experience, insight, and a growing understanding of the human condition, Harry is confronted with a discussion that includes a tidbit of information that’s out of place. It’s out of time. It’s too early. The speaker is revealed as a fellow semi-immortal being, someone who has experienced all this before, but unlike his peers, he’s willing to do something about it. To mix things up. To introduced science and technology he’s familiar with to a world that’s neither familiar or ready to assimilate something so new, so revolutionary as the transistor, or the microwave oven, or the small and large nuclear forces.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is one of the most entertaining, unique, and enjoyable reads I’ve had in a good long time. I loved it. I still love it. In fact I’m so taken with the story I want to read it again, and again to ferret out details I may have missed the first, or third, or tenth time around. Like Harry August himself, it is my destiny to relive his life over and over again – except that I embark on the journey perfectly willingly. Harry has no choice.
What an astounding piece of work. Well done, Claire North. I thank you for sharing a wonderful story with the rest of us.