Audiobook Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

24 04 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenney

Hachette Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A-

Here’s the thing: Give me a book about someone reliving their life over and over again, while maintaining their memories, and I’m gonna read it. And, more than likely, love it. People often say that there are no new plots, like that’s a bad thing. Maybe I’m strange, but often when I read a really good book, I want to read something just like it again. Maybe it’s the experience. You can never really re-experience a book again for the first time, but you can try and recapture that experience again through something else.

One of my all time favorite books is John Grimwood’s Replay. I friggin’ love that book for so many reasons. It’s time travel without the stupid machine. It’s a chance to fix your mistakes, or make new ones. So, when I heard about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, I knew I had to listen. It reminded me of Replay, and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. So, it’s hard to truly evaluate how much of my reaction to this novel is a reflection of the shared experience and how much was an appreciation of this specific experience.

Yet, I really liked Harry August, both the character and the novel, for many reasons. One of my favorite aspects is how Harry used each life to investigate a certain aspect of condition. Through science, religion, drugs whatever, he explores what it means to be a man reliving his life. This gives the novel a whole lot of metaphysical and scientific time travel speculation stuff that I always enjoy. I like novels that make my brain jump through hoops, consider strange possibilities, while maintaining character that I find engaging. The plot was full of moral complexities. How much influence should Harry and his like have on world events? Are they responsible to make the world a better place, or obliged to keep history flowing as close to the original path as possible? North explores these questions in interesting ways. I liked all this thinky stuff. The basic plot itself was fine. Harry receives a message from the future that something is happening to speed up the end of the world, and he investigates it. He works, at differing levels, with a group of others reliving lives called The Chronos Club. The investigation serves the purpose of creating conflict, and does it pretty well. All in all, I felt it came together well. In fact, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a novel that stuck in my brain for a long time after finishing.

I was glad to finally get to listen to a audiobook narrated by Peter Kenney that I actually liked. I had listened to him once before, and his performance was the main thing that kept me in that game. Again, Kenney gives a wonderful performance. OK, some of his American voices sounded weirdly like Daffy Duck, but his handle on international accents was excellent, and he added so much texture to the reading. He moved effortlessly between long bouts of exposition and dialogue seamlessly, keeping the listener actively engaged. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an experience I won’t soon forget, and the next time I see a book about someone living their life over and over again, I’ll probably be all over that as well.

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2 responses

24 04 2014
montsamu

I loved this book and audiobook. Easily in my top 5 of the year so far, right up there with On Such a Full Sea and Annihilation. And throughout reading I kept thinking that this book HAD to be in conversation with Atkinson’s “Life After Life”. The phrase is in there at least twice and they both occupy England, 1919-through-WW2-and-postwar again and again and again. Life after life, indeed.

24 04 2014
theguildedearlobe

You know, I really need to write a review of On Such a Full Sea. For some reason, it slipped through the cracks. But, yeah, I think my review sounds more tepid than it is. I really loved this book, but the reasoning why is complex and hard to explain.

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