I don’t remember in particular why I bought The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. It was the first book I bought through Book Depository for only €5! I don’t know if I decided it would be the first book I would order because of its price, but I know that at first I had a slight bit of regret for buying it.
This novel is a science fiction, historical novel written by Claire North about a man, Harry August, who has a particular ‘syndrome’ where he would live his life normally, and when he dies he was be reborn into the beginning of his life again with the memory of his previous life, and he’d get to relive his life again and again. Looking at the genres, this was definitely one of my type of books. I love sci-fi, I’m not a huge fan of time traveling and all that stuff because sometimes it gets too complicated and I’ve read several books that couldn’t handle the concept or the “science” of it very well. And of course, it’s a way too overused thing, and I know many would think, what makes this book different from other sci-fi, time travel books?
The story starts off a little slow and at first I was quite disoriented with the plot. It is basically a narration of Harry’s lives, written by Harry himself, talking to us the readers. And the time period jumps back and forth, and for the first several chapters I didn’t even understand much of it, because Harry keeps jumping from his first life to his fifth life and so on.
It was only one the middle part of the book that I began to understand the story and start to really enjoy it. And by the time I went to 3/4 of the book, I was engrossed in it. The story became so mesmerising and I was so involved with the characters that I just couldn’t stop reading. And of course, the story wasn’t that fast-paced like a young-adult novel, this story spans for around 400 years of Harry’s life and the narration was quite slow, but it was still intriguing in its own way.
What I really liked about this book is how it handled the time travel thing. And it’s not really exactly time travel because Harry doesn’t have a choice on whether he can go back or forward in time. But like I mentioned above, I was at first a little sceptical about the time travel aspect. Will North be able to show a different side of this genre and not make it boring or nonsensical? But she managed to make the concept interesting and very unique. Not to mention, the whole time travel part of the story isn’t very described in detail, but you can still understand what happens to Harry and his other friends. You don’t have to know how and why, and you probably never will, but it’s just not important to the story so it doesn’t need to be explained in detail. And the other scientific fiction aspects of the book really impressed me as well. It’s not too scientific, but it can still satisfy my curious brain.
There is no loss, if you cannot remember what you have lost.
Moving on to the characters, because there might only be one main character in the story, which is Harry, but there are also other minor characters. Harry August himself is a wonderful character and an excellent narrator. I love his thoughts, he’s a very realistic man with his own views in life. He is reasonable after a while living his life, but he also feels from time to time and there were parts of him that really shows how human he was, actions he did purely out of deep feelings and not rational thoughts.
For me, I always have a hard time liking side characters in a book. I think in this novel, one in particular really stood out for me. I really enjoyed reading about Vincent. He’s a really well-written minor character for me. I absolutely adore Harry’s relationship with Vincent, the whole “I’ll still be your friend and I’ll still love you even in different lives”. It didn’t really matter to me at first, but as the story evolves I began to really wish for more interaction between them. And I love how much Harry loves Vincent as a friend, a companion, and how their relationship would turn into something else (which I would not specify in this review because, spoilers). It was one of my favourite aspects of the book, the love/hate relationship between the two characters. It was beautifully written and I love their dynamic. It was beautiful to read how they were so comfortable with each other, and how they’d always find each other in their next lives. It’s almost like a love story.
This thing you carry inside you, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know where you got it. But Harry, the past is the past. You are alive today. That is all that matters. You must remember, because it is who you are, but as it is who you are, you must never, ever regret. To regret your past is to regret your soul.
And the ending, oh god, the ending! I love the last pages of the book so, so much. I love how the last sentence matches the first sentence and you just understand in the end that this whole book is actually just Harry talking to his friend and enemy, the person whom he knows so deeply from being his companion and really shaped him to who he is, but still is a huge influence to his life/lives. And the story just leaves me with so many feelings, mostly joy and sadness and a little bit of curiosity but also satisfaction. And not a lot of book endings can do that to the readers.
And so overall, this novel is a very beautifully written novel. It’s a little slow at first, but once you really get to know the characters and the pace, it really picks up. Trust me, just don’t stop reading halfway through the book. If you enjoy not too fast paced books with lovely descriptions and poetic narration, this is definitely the book for you. It made me cry a little and the ending will leave you breathless. I had a great time reading this novel and at the end, I don’t regret buying this book at all.