Top positive review
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Knockout time-travel/fantasy concept and execution - bravo!
on 21 September 2014
Though somehow, it would have passed me by completely if not for the Richard and Judy autumn list. I don't usually like many of their selections, but the title and idea of this stopped me in my tracks. And I was impressed.
Written under a pseudonym (of a previously sci-fi fantasy writer - one I haven't tried), 'Harry August' is a Groundhog Day without the romance, without the comedy, but sprinkled with a little Edge of Tomorrow and a good helping of Source Code, a little torture, megalomania, some philosophical thought and a great deal of intriguing writing.
Harry lives his life. Born to a raped mother in a 1920s railway station, raised not knowing his father, his life is fairly unremarkable despite enlisting in World War Two, his eventual demise from bone marrow cancer does not end his story. He is born again.... at the railway station in the 1920s... With all the knowledge of his previous life floating back to him as a toddler. And so it continues. While the first couple of pages are confusing, once this pattern and idea is set up within a half dozen pages, you're hooked. It's almost wish fulfilment - what would YOU do, living your life again with the chance to make different choices?
It's not a book about 'whys', how this might happen. It's about what we would do with eternity, what we would see and do, what we would change - and not only about ourselves. The book does veer from one life to another, though roughly in sequential order with segues to add context.
Absolutely fascinating stuff. Simply the regeneration alone would be novel-worthy, but more than one adversary pops up for Harry to deal with. Of course, other people's reactions to Harry's uniqueness are mixed - from the wife who commits him to the spies who want a scoop on future twentieth century history. Torture scenes are uncomfortable but not long or graphic (and Harry narrates them with little emotion, from a future incarnation).
The thought that's gone into this is stunning - the idea of passing messages backwards and forwards from young people to old and visa versa as they meet in their timelines. The knock-on effect of changing world history early. The 'club' of ouroborans/kalachakra (those who loop perpetually through their lives) who aid each other at important times in their lives. It's just so well described, it could be real. I loved Harry's changing relationship with his adopted parents and those he finds he is biologically related to, how he can't escape his eventual cancerous fate, how he can become a spy, a professor, a scientist with so many years to play with.
The villain of the piece is scary - a calm madman, insidious and frightening in his genius and reach. You ache for Harry to find a way to win, to stop the madness and save the world, as it seems to come down to.
It's such a good read, so cinematic inside my head, I wanted to read about Harry's next lives. I would in fact, if there were a sequel.
Great to see this kind of book on the Richard and Judy list, it's refreshing, incredibly thought-provoking and thrilling, a twisty read that plays with your mind and reality, and would make an excellent book group choice.