Tag Archives: Claire North

Five star reads of 2014

I’ve probably read more this year than any other year since I finished uni. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog, I find I’m able to keep track of what I’m reading and I’m more inclined to try new genres and authors. It’s been a spectacular year for Australian literature, and, thanks to the almighty power of the internets, I’m more knowledgeable about Western Australian authors who are doing great things. Here’s my five star reads of 2014, according to my Goodreads account, posted in no particular order.

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Obviously not written in 2014 but one I finally got around to reading this year and spent some time carrying around with me even after I’d finished it, so much did I enjoy it.

The Ark, Annabel Smith

Inventive, chilling and entirely believable, this is science fiction at its very best. I’m interested in seeing if other authors follow Smith’s lead by embracing online content as an addition to their work, rather than a duplication.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North

Every time I think of this novel I’m reminded of the Time Traveller’s Wife but without the romance (which generally makes me cringe). It helps that this one hasn’t been made into a disappointing film as well. I and saw the world a little differently after I’d read North’s novel, which is exactly the point of art, right?

Frog Music, Emma Donoghue

I’m interested in this rating because I only gave Donoghue’s wildly celebrated Room, which I also read this year, three stars. I’m not sure if I’m being harsh on Room or generous with Frog Music but I definitely enjoyed the latter more. It got off to a shaky start but the sense of place, use of language and portrayal of gender in this historical novel was so satisfying, all the more so because of its factual basis.

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Eimear McBride

This is a hard read, both because of McBride’s original stream of consciousness style and because of her subject matter, which follows a young girl through a violent and sexual coming of age as she deals with her brother’s cancer. Disturbing, powerful and moving this is one I won’t forget for a long time.

A Wrong Turn At The Office of Unmade Lists, Jane Rawson

Rawson’s thoroughly enjoyable, heartbreaking, story of a climate changed world and the power of invention is probably one of my favourite reads ever. Combining a bleak vision of a Melbourne of the future with talented story telling and emotional depth, the novel recently won the Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award and deservedly so.

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Part verse novel, part memoir, this slender work punches well above its weight. Offill’s gift with words made the isolation, loneliness and breakdown of her character so, so real. I wanted to give her a hug.

Letters to the End of Love, Yvette Walker

Speaking of hugs, Walker’s first novel is an absolute stunner, heart breaking, honest and beautifully written. You will probably cry in public and that’s okay. If anyone bumps into Walker in Perth tell her thank you from me. Thank you for writing this.

Only after compiling this list do I realise that it’s almost exclusively comprised of women. There’s three Australian authors and two of them are from WA. I hope this means I’m holding up my end of my commitment to read more Australian women writers. But it also means I could have missed something awesome. So it’s your turn. What are your five star reads from this year? Tell me why I should give them a go.

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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