The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Sorry I haven’t posted as much this past week. Very swamped with school stuff due before my spring break (which I will be home during, so hopefully lots of posts then). I’ve also been very busy playing with this new selfie-stick. I am both ashamed & ecstatic to own one.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August follows Harry, a kalachakra, one of a rare type of person who, after dying, comes back to life at the start of his past life all over again. So they live many lives, but always as the same person & always at the same time. But they keep their memories from all their previous lives. Harry gets involved with other people who have this ability, most of which are members of a secret society known as the Cronus Club. But not all of which are good & Harry eventually feels it’s his duty (partly because he is a pneumonic, somebody who remembers every little detail & never forgets no matter how many lives they have) to stop one of these people in particular from destroying the world. The whole thing is a recount told by Harry, but it jumps around from life to life in no particular order. Some of his lives and adventures don’t really have a direct relation to the plot, but help build his character & explore the idea of what a person would do if he was able to live infinitely.

The content really interested me, there was a lot of philosophical questioning & I really enjoyed listening to Harry’s thoughts. Literally listening because this was my first audible book. A good first choice because English accents hold my attention, as does Peter Kenny’s narration. A bad choice because it is so ridiculously long.

I love long books. But not books that are unnecessarily long. How I define that for this story, was basically because it was so repetitive, in several ways.

For example, Harry often brings up a point, such as he remembers everything, but then talks for a bit about a story. Then, maybe five minutes later will remind us again, that he remembers everything. This will happen about 50 times. I wanted to scream that I got it already! No need to tell me, yet again!

& while Harry’s musings & thoughts about life & mankind are interesting, he often has the same ones over & over again, without much change in their reasoning.

There is also a frequent repetition of dialogue. So something somebody said to Harry will be repeated, as if in italics, as he rethinks it at a later time in his life. Somebody needs to count how many times The world is ending is repeated, because I swear it felt like every other damn sentence.

I don’t think the writing style fit that well for audio. Instead of comparing what a scenario or a description might be like, North often compared things to what they weren’t like. So instead of describing how sunny it was, she’d state how rainy it wasn’t, as an example. It was an annoying type of description to listen to. Or Harry would state what something could’ve been like, but wasn’t. For example, this could’ve been an apple, but it was an orange. Like shit, dude, just say it’s an orange.

There was also a lot of unnecessary listing. So a character would describe something as ‘more than ____, more than ____, more than ____’ but all those blank spaces would essentially be three ways of saying the same thing.

Besides the sentence by sentence stuff, the book digresses a lot. There are a few villains & there are many side stories, some more important than others. You don’t actually get to the “world ending” bit until a long ways into the story.

This all makes it seem like it was an awful book, but I really liked it despite all of the above. Vincent’s character is by far my favorite. Without spoiling much, I’ll just say that I both loved & hated him equally & the scenes with him were the most captivating. Harry’s character was really relatable, despite the fact that I have nothing in common with that character. It’s also interesting since, from the title & his narration, we know that Harry will probably live past these experiences & things will work out. What holds our interest more is the getting there. It was a great plot & a wonderful story, it just took the long way round in the telling.

I liked the performance by the narrator of the audiobook, but he only has one version of an American accent and it made all the American characters sound the same which was a bit confusing. But he pulled off tons of English accents beautifully, as well as German, Swiss, Russian, etc. The book spans many countries & many people, each of which felt very alive & distinct.

Overall, this book probably would’ve been better in regular format, so I recommend it if the concept interests you. But the story itself wasn’t commanding my attention, & it definitely wasn’t one of my favorite books of the year so far.

Favorite Quotes:

“There’s far too much to do which society will not permit to the under thirties.”

“Mankind has learned to carve with the tools of nature but can’t yet see the sculpture it will create.”

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