The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August
In The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August our eponymous hero is a kalachakra, an ouroboron. (someone who when they die is reborn to the same life over and over) After suffering several lives filled with confusion, false diagnosis of insanity, and becoming prey to those who would know the future, Harry is found by the Cronus Club, a secret society, which protects those who are not "linear" from everyone else. They have one rule, don't intervene, don't change the course of history, it's been tried before and it led to disaster. But a message is being whispered from the future, the world is ending, can the kalachakra stop it?
I have been reading as long as I can remember and over the years must have read thousands of books.
Since the advent of my blog in 2011, I have read at a rough count 304 books, the majority of which were fiction novels with a few exceptions per year. I would say that split across the reviews the average score per book is about a 7. A few have achieved the ignominy of a Zero, or perhaps worse, a 2, and approximately 10% of the books I've read have received a 10/10.
Among these there is a Super Group, a Clique, the Creme de la Creme, an elite to which many aspire but few are chosen. If I refine my terms to only books read since 2011, this group contains Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller, The End Of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas, Genus by Jonathan Trigell and The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. These are books which kept me awake all night, books I thought were genius, books I envied the writers for having written, books which I felt were somehow written just for me, and particularly in the case of The Crane Wife books which triggered deep personal and emotional reactions.
At roughly 2am this morning, as I cursed my iPad for having found itself on 1% and I still had 100 pages left to go, The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August by Claire North joined their ranks.
I don't quite know how to explain fully just how good this book is, how much I loved it and why. It blew my mind. I thought it was incredible, brilliant, amazing and every other superlative thereof. I highlighted one line sentences, I highlighted full paragraphs, I got involved with the plot to an unreasonable degree, I stayed up with it as long as I could, I was engrossed in it, at times had physical feelings of excitement or anxiety. At first the central premise is not dissimilar to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, but the books could not diverge more in terms of plot and style. They are completely different. But God, this book is great.
Ultimately, I think what I liked best was the secret society angle, that these individuals stand outside of the world as experienced by the "linear", but support one another; the implied criticism of psychiatry, and the blurred lines between theology/philosophy and quantum physics as the kalachakra search for the meaning behind their existence.
I had a little niggle in that one character has this deep antipathy to the Cronus Club and the reasons for this are never explained. Was he ever a member? What happened? And if not how did he survive without them? It's not a problem that we don't find out, I just really wanted to know.
I was also curious about the butterfly effect, the kalachakra believe inaction is the right response to complexity so established events, almost as in Doctor Who, must remain fixed. However each of them do different things with each life they are gifted. Medical training in one life, law in another, different wives, different lovers that kind of thing, how do these changes not ultimately change the course of history in infinite and complex ways?
I'd love to ask the author about this, who in fact is an established author called Catherine Webb, also sometimes known as Kate Griffin and not in fact Claire North, which hot on the heels of Robert Galbraith, does make me wonder what the point of such pseudonyms ultimately is!
Verdict : 10/10 - DO buy this book, DO read it, it's the best book I've read this year.