The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

20706317This is the kind of book you’ll stay up all night to read.

Harry August lies on his deathbed for the 11th time. A little girl calmly sits beside him and says “I nearly missed you Dr August. I need to send a message”

In the world North has created, a few people live their lives over and over again. They die and wake up as an infant back in the same exact time and place they were born. At the end of his eleventh life a little girl, who has also lived several lives, passes on an ominous message to Harry, a warning that has been passed down through generations of people like them.

I loved so many things about this book, the tightly woven plot, the ethics of messing with time and a deep and complicated friendship that transformed with each lifetime. And I loved the main character, Harry, who successfully carried the story with empathy and dry humour as he deals with living the same life over and over again:

Naturally my reaction to being born again precisely where I had begun – in the women’s restroom of Berwick-upon-Tweed station, on New Year’s Day 1919, with all the memories of my life that had gone before, induced its own rather clichéd madness in me.

Harry as a character grew on me with a slow burn until before I knew it, it was three in the morning and I was on tenterhooks for what he was going to do next. North expertly illustrates a man who is seemingly dispassionate about life and “linears” who live just once through it but we start to see that’s not quite true.  I already respected his cleverness, and North expertly illustrates how dynamic his mind is without outright telling us, but it was his reaction to the briefly mentioned character Rosemary Dawsett that was the turning point for me and made me Team Harry all the way. North writes scenes that are unsentimental and yet able to devastate you at the same time

 “Forgive me,” I wrote at the bottom. “I did not think I would break.”

Quantum Physics and Nuclear Power play significant parts in this novel and the last time I took any kind of science was at GCSE level. Despite this North writes in a way that made me feel I could understand it. She gave it context, made it exciting and this is an example of the great way fiction can bring an unfamiliar subject to life. I love fiction where I organically learn things while engaged in a great story and North delivers this with effortless skill.

This is an epic story of rivalry, of friendship, alternate timelines and the power of human discovery. It is definitely my favourite fiction book so far of 2016.


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