The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
As Harry dies, he is reborn as himself, in the exact same place, time, and circumstances, as if he’d never lived before. Except he remembers everything.
This book explores time, life, science, memory, and humanity. How do you spend your life if it’s your only one, then what happens when you realize it isn’t? How does living change, how does your perception of time, events, people, and memory change?
To live the same life over and over, to watch the same disastrous things happen, life after life, it can get tedious, depressing, and may encourage one to start to change.
Harry is not the only ouroboran (person who dies then lives again), and in one of his early lives, he’s introduced to the Cronus Club, a group of his peers who are set on making sure history stays the same. Disastrous things can happen when you mess with time, after all, and the Cronus Club regulates that. In addition, the Cronus Club makes life easier for those who are fated to live their lives a thousand times. When their memories return as early as two, they begin making connections and escape plans, where their hundred-year-old minds aren’t as trapped by their young bodies.
Imagine going through puberty dozens of times. Ugh.
Harry was born in the 20s in England, and he spends most of his lives in and around England, fighting in the war, studying various degrees, and traveling the world to help himself understand his predicament. In one Cambridge stay, he befriends a young man named Victor, with whom he has philosophical and scientific discussions on the theory of time. When Victor suspects Harry is a member of the Cronus Club, he punches him and disappears.
Years later, a young girl comes to his deathbed with a message from the future: the world is ending faster and faster, and they can’t figure out how to stop it.
Harry’s fifteen lives are a mixture of boring and interesting, with the storytelling interweaving between the lives and connecting similar moments. Some lives were definitely more interesting than others (I wasn’t a fan of the time he spent in a mental institution, though I suspect he wasn’t either), and some of the slower lives could drag the story down at times.
That being said, it wasn’t enough to deter me from the complexity of this story.
I love time travel, even though it makes my brain hurt when I think about it too often. In the beginning, I wrote down several questions and theories I had regarding this story and its usage of time, and as the novel progressed, many of those questions were answered for me.
Harry himself is kind of a boring character with a boring life, but in the second half, he starts to become more interesting, more deceptive, more creative, which made him more likeable in turn. His dabbles with “evil” in Russia help pick up the plot, and the centuries-long deception is intricate and incredible.
I loved the mix of science and history and I thought the concept was really, really cool.