Richard and Judy Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

Richard and Judy Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

“What to do with such knowledge, such power? Memorise a sporting almanac so when you come back you can clean up at the bookies and live in stupendous wealth and luxury? Hide your gold in a safe place before you die so you don’t even need to bother placing bets in future lives? Spend a few return visits to the world mugging up on, say, nuclear physics so you can out-argue the likes of Einstein or Hawking?”

Richard’s review

An old man lies on his deathbed.

He had been here before. Many times. And he will be again.

Because Harry August is a kalachakra – a person destined to be endlessly reborn, like the mythical snake that devours itself by its tail; or the phoenix that rises from the ashes.

But there are some unalterable rules about kalachakra such as Harry. The first is that they are always born to the same parents and at the same point in time, over and over again.

The second is that, after their first incarnation and death, they return with a full set of memories. Almost as soon as they can walk and talk, they have perfect recall of all their past lives.

What to do with such knowledge, such power? Memorise a sporting almanac so when you come back you can clean up at the bookies and live in stupendous wealth and luxury? Hide your gold in a safe place before you die so you don’t even need to bother placing bets in future lives? Spend a few return visits to the world mugging up on, say, nuclear physics so you can out-argue the likes of Einstein or Hawking?

Or take the religious path: try to work out what you are, why you are, what your purpose may be (if you have one outside your own never-ending existence: maybe there’s no other point to you than that).

Or perhaps – just perhaps – you are not alone. What if there are others like you out there somewhere? How can you find them – and is it dangerous even to try?

“Like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, Harry is not compelled to re-enact his previous life, or indeed any of his past existences. Once he’s been born – in 1918, the result of a callous rape committed on a serving girl by her master – his life is his own to do what he likes with.”

Judy’s review

What a tour de force this novel is: a headlong plunge into the metaphysical but utterly readable, utterly believable and compelling from the first page to the last. Which makes me wonder why Claire Norton is a pseudonym, concealing the existence of what her (or is it his?) publishers say is a published and acclaimed British author, but of books completely different from this one.

Like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, Harry is not compelled to re-enact his previous life, or indeed any of his past existences. Once he’s been born – in 1918, the result of a callous rape committed on a serving girl by her master – his life is his own to do what he likes with. For example, in his second life he is so confused by past memories that he thinks he’s insane and kills himself at an early age. When he comes back for the third time, he is wiser, and begins what may be an infinite series of voyages through the twentieth century.

Of course, he steadily accumulates knowledge – of science, cataclysmic world events, and the woman he loves with an intensity above everything else.

By turns dramatic, funny, agonisingly painful, and deeply symbolic, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August will turn out to be one of the fiction highlights of the decade. We absolutely loved it and so will you.

Press reviews

Here are a selection of the reviews for The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

“The writing is impeccable . . Plus Harry is a fascinating main character . . . And if his next 15 lives are half as eventful, we look forward to the sequel”

Heat

“Gripping”

The Sun

“An astonishing re-invention of the time-travel narrative. Bold, magical and masterful”

M. R. Carey

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