Monday, September 1, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August {Book Review}

About the Book
(from the book's website)
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.
Where do I even start on this book?  Well, I know, full disclosure - I didn't actually "read" this book.  Instead, through a frustrating-accident-turned-happy-surprise, I downloaded the Audio Book through Amazon's site, Audible.

I love listening to well performed Audio Books and this was definitely one of them.  It certainly changes the experience of reading the book and makes it more like a radio play.

Written by Claire North and narrated by Peter Kenny, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August takes you on a journey through time from 1919 to 2003... about 15 times.  In the novel, Harry and people like him are called Kalachakra - humans who are born, who die and then who are born again and relive the exact same life.

The story is fascinating and intriguing, if slow to get started and confusing at times, with great glimpses into history's largest occurrences and most mundane moments. The characters are not exactly likable, but they're interesting and their humanity is amplified by the repetition of their lives. The prose is smart, whip-smart, rocket-scientist smart - dancing in circles around your understanding of time and what it means to live.

None of that is why I liked this book.

I wasn't even sure I like the book until about 3/4 of the way in when something happened that ultimately didn't matter because the moment would cease to exist, cease to ever have happened once Harry died.  The simple description of it made me cry.  It was moments like that and the brain twisting theories that made me like this book.

What would you do differently if you were able to relive your life?  Would you do better or worse in school?  Would you study the same thing in college?  Would you date that guy?  Any of those guys? Once you were done making changes in your day to day life, would you try to save the world?  Kill Hitler? Stop 9/11?  Would you leave your parents as a child because you're really 367 and bored out of your mind reliving the same days for the fifth time?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions!  Like all time travel stories (though I hesitate to call it that), there are rules to follow so you don't destroy the world.  You can't kill Hitler, you can't stop 9/11, you can't end WWII before it's time because of made up time travel rules - those sorts of big events (Kennedy dying, the Berlin wall falling, Chernobyl) HAVE to happen. These sorts of rules are necessary to establish order among the characters, because, honestly, who wouldn't do any of those things if they could?

The Kalachakra reminded me of Time Lords (from Doctor Who fame) trapped in time.  They were cold and calculating - able to "end it all" if current situations were inconvenient for them because they were just going to COME BACK TO LIFE.

In the end, the story was satisfying, but not nearly the reason for reading it.  Harry August's world, the rules he follows and breaks and the lives he live are worth the investment of part of your one life.

3.5/5 Hearts!

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