Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book 66: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

This was one of those novels I stumbled upon while at the bookstore, and even though I had never heard of it before, the cover and the title caught my interest.  Having read Replay and Life After Life, I was definitely interested in the premise of a hero who relives his life.  Harry August, the narrator, relives his life over and over again, making changes and adjustments as he wishes.  However, he is part of a greater community of people with this same ability, people randomly scattered throughout the world and time.  As a result, these people are actually able to communicate with the past, usually by playing a complicated and long game of telephone, where someone asks someone who is older a question, who then asks an older person once he is reborn as a child.  The novel begins when a message comes to Harry August from the future, telling him that the world is ending faster than every before.

The community of kalachakra have set themselves some rules and it mostly involves not changing the world order.  The fact that the end of the world is speeding up means someone is introducing concepts, idea and technology much earlier than originally developed, and Harry may be the key to discovering the culprit behind this.

While the novel starts with a great mission to save the world, the story is actually told at a much more leisurely pace than I expected, exploring Harry's different lives and experiences, the rules that have guided his lives and those similarly afflicted, and certain actions he repeats in all his lives compared to the things that change throughout.  While I was initially surprised by the pace, it actually worked for the novel - after all, who hasn't pondered what they would change or do differently if they could start life over with the knowledge of all that they have done, and how history will turn out?  Harry, additionally, is rather unique because he can remember everything that has happened in all his lives.  Most of the others forget details as repetition and time blurs things together.  There is also a process that allows fellow kalachakra to erase all the memories and begin again, living a first life again after they have either sinned against their kind or become too disillusioned or unhappy to want to continue with their lives.

I'm definitely glad I took a chance on this one (although does it really count as a chance when it had a four star rating on Goodreads - still I hadn't seen it on CBR).  It was also nice to read a novel that really dealt with the opportunities and choices - while I liked Life After Life, the character had only vague premonitions not to do things that had previously endangered her, so I enjoyed reading a novel about a man who actively lives his life over and over again, leading to drastically different circumstances from one life to the next.  It also led to a variety of moral and ethical questions and quandaries regarding how much one should try to influence the future for the better, especially when being reborn simply means it would need to be done again and again if it even had the right effect.