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.
As Harry nears the end of his 11th 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.
©2014 Claire North (P)2014 Hachette Audio
As you are, I'm a person who reads the reviews to see if I should invest in a book. I put this book low on my wishlist because it sounded interesting but the words "tough to read" and "sociopath" and "couldn't like the characters" kept popping up in the reviews. It should have been a little higher up on my wishlist. While I'm glad I was pre-warned that there was a lot of gruesome violence in the book (there is) and that the characters are generally callous and frequently cruel people (they are), these aspects made sense for the premise of the book. If death means nothing to you why would you care if you committed suicide by rat poison? If you live the same life over and over for hundreds of years, how could the "linears" (normal people) become anything other than paper dolls for you to play with? Once I situated the characters in their culture rather than my culture I was definitely able to understand their motivations and empathize with them.
I mean, prrrroooobably don't read this book if you're in a very fragile emotional/mental health state. Like, if the characters in The Girl on the Train or Skippy Dies effed you up, this isn't the book for you. Otherwise, it's a pretty cool book. I enjoyed that the author was brave enough to make the characters the people they would logically have been, given the situation they were placed in. I also enjoyed the general sci-fi, time travel premise because I can't really say that I've seen this particular concept before. There were a lot of cool new ideas in here about the nature of time, memory, destiny, self-determination, and the things that make humans themselves.
As my title pronounces, this book was slow, very slow, to start. I almost returned it for this reason, actually. The story was rambling and disjointed. We jumped around all over the place and, quite frankly, it was difficult to maintain any semblance of a narrative line. The character was likable enough, but that is hardly a reason to put oneself through hours of meandering. I was frustrated that yet again it appeared I had been mislead by a 4.5 star rating.
About halfway through the book wakes up. Suddenly the narrative flow clicks in and one recognizes the broader plot that has been slowly forming around the central core of the story. An antagonist is introduced and their relationship becomes beautifully nuanced. Instead of just relying on the "gee whiz" factor of multiple lifetimes, the narrative can be drawn out over many, albeit repeated, centuries. This is where the book gets good.
North gives us a nuanced and well thought out discussion of what our purpose in life is- though she doesn't make a conclusion the topic is explored extensively. The limits of humanity and our impact on the world, even if we are given multiple bites at the apple, is the driving concept of the plot.
The conclusion was highly satisfying and tied together a tremendous amount of the perceived failures of the first half of the book. I don't know whether this was intentional from the start, or derived as a method for 'curing' the inconsistencies, but I'm not sure it matter either way.
I'm glad I read it in the end and pushed past the desire to give up and return it. However, if you are easily frustrated with odd jumping plots, this will never be you cup of tea. If you have issues with torture scenes, take a pass on this one. While they are not terribly frequent, they do occur with some dramatic intensity. Adult themes throughout.
In the end, it was worth it, but I'm not sure I would start over from scratch if I had a large queue of books waiting for my time and attention. If you're searching for something to listen to and don't mind a meandering plot, then by all means. A perfectly average book (and I don't say that with any hostility at all, not every book has to be a slam dunk) with good narration.
Finished reading: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.
The classic question: if you could live your life again, what would you do differently knowing what you know now? For Harry August this isn't hypothetical, he is born, lives, dies and is reborn again at the exact same day and place as before. The premise has been explored before in Groundhog day and Edge of Tomorrow but having to live his whole life again is a big difference.
This is a book about concepts and big picture plot. Explores how an individuals would react, what kind of secret society would form, deal with the tediousness of childhood, try different careers, and keeping life interesting. This allows other concepts like alternative history and pre-crime prevention to be examined.
This kind of story needs many characters and settings but only two characters are really developed. While the concepts that are introduced are interesting to think about the story narrative is only adequate. There no interesting characters to draw you in and no risk or thrill until the last third.
Narrator was excellent keeping the different characters and accents distinct.
The story is slow and not a page turner. Read if your an ideas person.
Sci-fi, History, Police Procedurals and Science
This is a tough book -- there is a lot physical and psychological torture. The idea is not new, but it is well-done. Excellent narration. That all said, I enjoyed the intellectual challenges. It was like reading Kafka -- a book that ends up being as much about you as it is about the character. More literature than Science Fiction despite the excellent time-travel "rules." It put me in mind of "the Man in the Empty Suit".
This book had an interesting premise, and once I got the "flow" down I liked the way the author dealt with time. However, the kalachakras that we spend the most time with have strong sociopathic tendencies--so much so that had I been told that the author was exploring a fictional theory on the reincarnation-based creation of sociopaths, I would have believed it.
Since I had a distaste for the characters, I couldn't engage in their dans macabre or feel any of the pathos the author intended. Yes, the narrator finally reluctantly does what must be done, but how was I supposed to feel a sense of sadness and loss at "the best friend he ever had"--who had manipulated him from day one? Sorry, it left me cold. Really, I've had it with the glorification of sociopaths. Too much of our conceptual space is devoted to their antics.
The reader seemed like he had trouble engaging with the narrator, too. The only good narration he did was with the "other" characters. I kept listening because I tend to finish books unless they are unbearably technically clumsy. Technically, there is nothing wrong with this book (except for a predictable ending). It is the content and execution that just didn't cut it for me.
In the dictionary, next to the word "bibliophile" there is a picture of me... Ok... it's my dictionary... and I put the picture there.
Good story and the narrator was genius at portraying the various characters. I liked the way it all flowed and came together and I found it to be an interesting plot, however it just wasn't my cup of tea. I got a little bored because I had a difficult time identifying with the main character. I would not fault the author with this though, it is simply a case of not finding every well written character interesting. I think I would have found Charity to be much more interesting.
All of my reviews are on my blog audiobookreviewer dot com
Harry August dies at the end of each life only to be reborn as himself, an orphaned bastard in the early 20th Century; and each time he remembers…everything. At first he thinks he is insane, then he discovers others like himself, living the same life over and over again. They have formed clubs around the world. Some have become jaded and bored, indulging in wealth, sex and drugs, while others like Harry continue to search for knowledge. Harry is unique in another way, unlike the others who relive their lives, he remembers every moment in absolute, perfect detail.
It is a beautifully written book, switching easily between Harry’s many lives like a darting bird. There are many challenging concepts of time and God which will keep the listener thinking hard. One especially clever idea was other life repeaters able to communicate with those in earlier or later periods through graffitied artifacts or youths finding their predecessors just before death. Mind bending stuff.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August has a 19th Century SciFi feel to the book, something like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. The descriptive elements of the novel unfold gently and beautifully, and the listener is well rewarded for his patience. There is plenty of action and an almost blasé attitude towards some horrendous torture scenes. Harry has seen and done so many things before and knows that he will simply die, reset his life, and do it differently next time. The story and the character develop a great sense of time. It works beautifully.
Peter Kenny is the narrator and does an excellent job. Harry is British as is Kenny. His voices are well done and always enjoyable. His American accents are quirky and charming, not quite right but fun to listen to none-the-less.
The Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a wonderful listen and will have you looking for more books by Ms North and/or books narrated by Peter Kenny.
Audiobook purchased for review by ABR.
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Sci-Fi nerd, musician, reading enthusiast
Harry August was born, lived a long life, and died of old age. And then he does it all over again. At the end of his eleventh life, he's delivered a dire warning: "The world is ending, and we cannot stop it." It falls on Harry to prevent the coming apocalypse before those who wish to do him and his kind harm permanently destroy him.
"The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" is such an incredibly unique novel, taking the reader through his multiple lives as he relives events, albeit in slightly different ways each time. I did find myself getting a little bit lost early on, but around the halfway point the main plot really picks up and hooks the reader. Part surreal and fantastical, part mystery, this is sure to be a compelling novel for all types of readers.
On the audio edition: All in all a decent listen, but Peter Kenny has the most miserable American accent. Really threw me out of the story at times.
I bought this book solely based on the ratings. It was a little slow getting started, but holy cow did it make up for lost time. The story was unique and fantastic, and the narration was one of the best I've heard so far. The narrator could convincingly sound like a young boy, or an old woman dying of pneumonia, and anywhere in between. Just spectacular. There were times when I couldn't understand him, no matter how many times I repeated the section, due to the speedy dialogue, but that didn't detract from the overall performance or story. If I could give this book 10 stars overall, I would.
What a great story. I really hope that there is more of the Harry August story. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes time travel type stories. The narrator does a great job and I have no problem believing that he is Harry August.
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