By Claire North
Narrated by Peter Kenny
Reviewed by Miranda Boyer
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a book unparalleled by most. I picked this book up in an audio format. First let me say this note about Peter Kenny, he is hands down one of the best narrators I’ve ever had the privilege of listening too. Throughout this book, there is an endless array of accents, even by our main character and Kenny handles each flawlessly. Not only does is voice add to the story, I can’t imagine that this superlative novel being told any other way.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August explores the meaning of time, life, friendship, and personal fate in awe-inspiring premise. Harry, our protagonist is reborn life after life as himself, same year, same family, same everything. Reincarnation or Groundhog’s day on steroids, I suppose we’ll never know. Each beginning of his lives is identical to the first with the exception that by the age of four or five Harry remembers the entirety of each of his former lives. At first, in his second life, Harry and his family think he’s gone mad and he kills himself by the age of seven. By his third life he’s adjusted to his fate and starts to understand the advantages to using his knowledge of the world to better his situation.
Soon Harry learns that he is a rare bread of people, the Kalachakra, who are apart of a secret society, the Cronos Club, spanning all of time. The club protects and saves young members from the hostage like state of having to live life as an adolescent repeatedly without being able to change their own lives. The club also is a way for each member to connect and pass messages through time both forward and backwards. Harry receives such a message in his eleventh life from a little girl: The world is ending, much like it always does, but at an accelerated rate and far sooner then it should.
I found that Harry is most fascinating when he’s at his most reflective moments in the book. Harry endures some atrocious experiences in multiple lives; he often looks back in a retrospective way with an almost cold historian like dispassion that edges on inhuman. This wall he’s built up around himself protects him from every experience he’s had in his more then 900 years on earth. Once in a while that wall cracks, and when those emotions come out and Harry can’t catalog them as a third party anymore, that’s when Harry is most compelling. The internal battle between what he dispassionately knows needs to be completed and what he emotionally desires to do instead makes for a beautiful read.
Claire North aka Catherine Webb is a skilled writer who strings a number of deeply complex events together flawlessly in a clear and compelling narrative. I couldn’t put this down.