Tag Archives: Catherine Webb

In another life: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

When I am optimistic I choose to believe that every life I lead, every choice I make, has consequence. That I am not one Harry August but many, a mind flickering from parallel life to parallel life and that when I die, the world carries on without me, altered by my deeds, marked by my presence.

Then I look at the deeds I have done and, perhaps more importantly considering my condition, the deeds I have not done, and the thought depresses me, and I reject the hypothesis as unsound.

What is the point of me?

FirstfifteenlivesofharryaugustHarry has a condition. He was born on January 1, 1919. He lived his life and eventually died in 1989 as the Berlin Wall fell. And was reborn on January 1, 1919 with full memory of all the years he had already lived.

Such are the lives of the kalachakra, a group of people who live, over and over again, born on the same day, each time with all their memories of the lives before intact. It is hard at first. There is loneliness, confusion, fear and finally acceptance. To guide, support and help children who need saving, or lifting out of tedious childhoods they may have lived several times, there is a society of kalachakra called the Chronus Club. The Chronus Club is a loose association of like minded individuals but it does have a couple of rules. For example, if you happen to become exceedingly rich consider putting some money aside for others of your kind. Also, don’t interfere with established linear events. Yes. The first rule of time travel is back, baby.

This is probably one of the more engaging and inspiring time travel novels I’ve read. Part science fiction, part philosophical inquiry, Claire North, pseudonym for Catherine Webb, who also writes under the pseudonym Kate Griffin forcing me to picture her as a Russian doll, has written an absolute stunner. Harry’s character is never forced, the concept is never laboured and there’s always enough hinting just beyond the frame of the narrative at a sweep of years we can’t quite comprehend to keep it interesting. Imagine what you would do with all the time in the world? Travel, become fluent in every language you might care to, take up different professions, different lovers, different identities. Harry does all this and more. But then, at the end of his 11th life, something strange happens. A young girl appears by his deathbed and tells him to take a message back in his next life. A message for the past. The world is ending, she says. That’s not unusual, the world is always ending. But this time it’s ending faster.

The difference between a four star and a five star novel to me isn’t necessarily about execution. If a novel is well executed it should have four stars to begin with. That fifth star is for the novels with a brilliant concept, the ones that will live with me, the ones that make me think and break my heart and rebuild it again. As a result the star system is entirely subjective and highly fallible (shock!). But to me, the only shortcoming of this novel was that it finished. Take that as you will.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North: five stars.

Read it if: you want some new ideas, if you wish you could live your life over, if you thought The Time Traveller’s Wife was a bit corny.

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