I’ve had a great run of luck with books lately (maybe not my own, with regards to finding it an agent, but I’m working on that still). Starting with Swash!, by Brendan Myers, and then the whole amazing Last Policeman trilogy from Ben H. Winters, the post-apocalyptic former garbage man in Adam Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready, Sandman Slim crawling up out of Hell into Los Angeles in Richard Kadrey’s series starter. And Simon Rich’s excellent short story collection, The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories. But I wanted to highlight Claire North’s amazing The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. So here’s my review of it. Enjoy.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book.
I’ve always loved this book.
Each and every lifetime in which I’ve read it.
In fact, I loved it so much that the next time through I visited Claire North (pseudonym) in 2005 — it took me a while to find her pseudonymous self — and handed her a partial outline of an idea for a book about a kalachakra, a person who lives their lifetime over and over again.
She told me she’d already gotten an idea like that and called her patent lawyers.
So in my next life I tracked her down more quickly, came prepared with better notes. Saw her in 1990. Dropped off my scribbled notes in her school bag on a fine Scottish morning. The sensation of a five year old publishing a book which such a fun, imaginative plot and ripe characters made ripples that probably caused some odd things to happen downstream through the ages, but at least I got to read it earlier.
In my next life I tried giving the same notes to her father, but nothing came of it. He didn’t care for the visceral descriptions of the tortures Harry August endures, yet endures with a type of detachment. The next after that I tried it out on her mother in 1981, but that, too, had no effect. The very next life I tried publishing the book myself, which is when the publisher pulled me aside, in the grimy halls of the printing room.
“You can’t publish this book.”
“Why not?” I may have stuttered a little.
He peered at me over the top of his glasses, which never seemed to sit well, as if the cloud of ink in which he seemed to walk prevented his glasses from adhering to his face.
I flapped the manuscript.
“Claire wants you to know that she knows.”
“But… but she hasn’t even been born yet.”
The publisher simply looked at me, his hand held out for the manuscript.
“Is this the only extant copy?” He waggled his fingers at the manuscript I could tell was already slipping out of my hand. “Don’t lie, now, she’ll know. You know she’ll know.”
I nodded, and handed over the pages and skulked off and just waited and waited and waited until 2014, when the book would finally be published.
Except I didn’t have to wait. Because I had one last copy because I’d spent the previous life memorizing the book and read it over again in my mind. In fact, I even wrote this review back in 1978, I just had to wait and wait for someone to come around and invent Goodreads.com.
I thought the plot was a lot of fun, the characters an excellent cast with whom you could spend a few lifetimes. There were beautiful moments when kalachakra meet each other in passing (Joseph Kirkbriar Shotbolt’s story is a good one — ‘”Oh God,” he groaned, seeing me read. “You’ve trained as a doctor, haven’t you? Can’t stand bloody doctors, especially when they’re five years old.”), the mysterious Cronus Club saving its members, and sometimes not. The book was a spy novel, a time travel novel, a story about a couple of friends. What a fantastic read.