Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Reviews Reloaded: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on November 25, 2014. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

The First Fifteen Lives of Henry August - Claire North
Redhook Publishing
432 Pages

Imagine if when you died, you were immediately reborn to live that life all over again and you remembered everything from your previous life or lives.  What would you do differently? Would you be able to amass a fortune with all that you had learned before? What if there were others like you in the world? Would they help you or hinder you? Those are some of the questions raised in the novel The First Fifteen Lives of Henry August by Claire North.

This novel is highly entertaining and very original.  I was engaged from the first page, all the way to the last, and was kept guessing as to where the plot twists would take me.  This was one of the books that I couldn’t put down as soon as I opened the cover.

Right from the first paragraph I was hooked.  As old Henry August is dying in his bed, he is visited by a strange little girl who gives him a message to carry to his next life -- the world is ending. Now it falls to Henry to try to stop this predicament in his next few lives.

What immediately comes to mind is the movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray. This novel could be considered in that vein except Henry August isn’t re-living a single day. He relives his entire life over and over. He is able to use his knowledge to steer humanity away from the precipice.  Of course, he fails a couple times, gets bored, and gets shanghaied by another of his kind. In the end, his lives are defined by how he tackles the issue of how to curtail the end of the world.

One of the best parts of the novel isn’t only the plot. The writing style of Claire North keeps the reader engaged, anxious to turn the pages to see if August is triumphant in his quest.  North weaves several tales into one long epic. Each of August’s lives rings with its own emotion. Some lives read with desperation as our hero feels opportunity slipping away. Others read with pleasure as he once again meets up with the love of his life.  The reader lives with August through his highs and lows.

Each of Henry August’s lives are different enough to keep the reader wondering what will happen next in each life, but similar enough that you know that it is the same person dealing with the same situations in different ways.  Through flashbacks of different lives, the reader is able to assemble the various pieces of the puzzle and guess as to the solution to save the world. It is not without pitfalls, but it is ingeniously fun and engaging.

I should note that Claire North is a pseudonym. The mysteriousness of the author makes the story all that more intriguing. After reading this single work, I hope that the Claire North persona writes more novels as well done as this. Likewise, if he or she has written other novels under his or her own name, I hope that we can someday soon discover these other works.  I highly recommend The First Fifteen Lives of Henry August if you are looking for some great leisure reading.

Craig Bacon has some ideas for extra lives. He can't tell all of them on this family forum, but trust him, they would be epic.