Book review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Published April 8th 2014 by Redhook


Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime. Harry August is on his deathbed. Again. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.” This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

My rating: ⭐⭐

I am finally done with the last book on my 2020 reading challenge. And it was such a bore. Anticipated read, unexpected disappointment.

When I encountered The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August for the first time and added it to my to-be-read shelf a couple of years passed by, and since I was waiting for the right moment to finally read this book. The ideal moment would not come and it took me fifteen tries to finally start it.

To be honest, I had no doubt this book is a masterpiece. I was ready to expect something of a The Goldfinch level of writing and intellectual challenge. There were no visible reasons for me not to like it: a book about time-travel and reflection on life – or in this case, many lives – what is here not to like? But sometimes our expectations are not met and magic does not happen.

I’ve noted that many readers complained about the pacing of the book, how slow it is. But, honestly, I never minded slow pacing. For me, the reason for never getting a full immersion into the story, was not the pacing but the way the story was unfolding. One moment there was an action, the next moment there’s a long narration of an event taking place in one of the many lives of our character, from which we have to make some conclusions involving the current events. But by the time the recollection of the past event is over, I’ve forgotten where were we at the present.

Another thing that bothered me is the hypocrisy from the author’s side concerning some views on the world that were transmitted through the character’s eyes. I understand that any opinion is subjective but some views on certain things were evoking a repulsion out of me, where I was feeling like the author was trying to push her opinion into readers through her narrative. I am not a fan of such tactics and the 1st POV narrative did not add to my overall enjoyment of that fact.

But mostly, I’d say that ‘Fifteen Lives’ is not my kind of book. The story is not even about time-travel, not really, but that did not bother me that much the book being more about philosophy and reflection on the meaning of life. One’s imagination definitely goes wild with what if I had more than one life and could remember my previous ones? It’s a fascinating question I was thinking about many times before. Alas, this book is just not the type of answer I was hoping for.

All in all, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a decent story that touches quite a few interesting topics, but the execution and the lack of connection with the main character just left it bland and unmemorable for me.

Fifteen lives gone into oblivion.


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