Brief Book Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

By Claire North

I was prepared to go through with it as long as the information acquired appeared to outweigh the boredom death induced.

From maniacal super villain to magnanimous lionheart, all are united in the quest to avoid the grim reaper’s scythe. All, but Harry August.

Harry August led an unremarkable life. He died as the Berlin Wall fell; childless and alone in a Newcastle hospital bed. Moments later he woke as a baby exactly where he started, with memories intact. His second life ended in madness.

The idea of Groundhog Day over a lifetime is powerfully simple, and prompts some profound questions.

Claire North put us in the shoes of a man whose body might be 40 years old, but his mind 640. A man who knows exactly how his parents die, if humans set foot on the moon, and whether Russia triggers a nuclear holocaust. Once you put aside the daily anxieties that consume our attention, what’s left to wonder?

And so Harry August walks the earth like a veiled prophet, observing humans how humans observe ants: caught up in predictable behaviours and obsessed with their ultimately meaningless lives. North’s primary achievement with The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is getting her audience to empathise with such a being.

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