10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Hardcover)
A disclaimer, I suppose - I went into this novel a bit jaded about "time travel" tales. And I was certainly not in the mood for another book about the apocalypse (or the prevention thereof). So finding that I liked this book - loved it, in fact - came as a bit of a surprise.
Harry August is an unforgettable character (there's a slightly spoiler-related pun in there, but I'll let you read the book and come back to mock me). Harry is born, lives a fairly unimpressive life (sorry Harry, you're a bit dull) and dies. But then, he's born again. With all the memories of his previous life. Disconcerting, to say the least. And again, and again and... as you can imagine, the title can be taken more-or-less literally.
Harry's one of the remarkable people who lives his life over and over again, a form of reincarnation that's both blessing and curse. Ms. North is quick to embrace all the possibilities, both positive and negative. Does immortality get boring? What is life like if you know everything that's going to happen? Does someone turn to excess or to saintliness? Does it get lonely? Do you go mad?
Harry is amazing because he is so utterly normal - a completely decent, flawed, usual (slightly nebbish, even) human being that's given the most extraordinary circumstances. It is all to easy to slip into his shoes and walk with him as he unpicks the complexity of his existence.
Nor does The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August fail to embrace the bigger picture. Although Harry's utterly-justified existential questions are fascinating, he's caught up in larger events. There are others like him, and they've settled into a routine - passing information forwards and back, creating an invisible network of support and occasionally even playing practical jokes. Through them Harry learns more about the 'rules' of his bizarre life. And through them, Harry sees more of the angst of immortality. Is their existence a blessing or a prison?
Harry's also given a perfect foil, someone else who is clever enough to ask these questions, but also brave enough to act on the answers. The First Fifteen Lives expands beautifully: first it is about Harry, then it is about his peers and, finally, it is about history itself - and what Harry (or anyone's) role is in shaping, or preserving, the world.
This book has all the intellectual rigour and thoughtfulness of great science fiction, but, more importantly, it is driven by incredible characters. Harry is so easy to empathise with and to understand that he becomes the perfect companion for an impossible trip. His life (lives!) and death (deaths?) quickly become our own.