Time travel is difficult to write a book about, there is so much to consider from paradoxes to the butterfly effect. Claire North’s novel ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ explores the concept very well.
In this book, time travel is not the typical concept of stepping in a time travelling machine, such as Doctor Who, instead when the kalachakras (as they’re called) die, they start their life over again, with all the memories of their previous life preserved. These people form the Chronos Club, dedicated to preserving time and preventing fellow kalachakras from changing the world. At the end of one lifetime, the main character, Harry August, receives a message passed back from the future saying that the world is ending and that it is getting faster. Harry takes it upon himself to work out why such a thing is happening and to find a way to stop it.
The concept of this novel was fascinating. I have not seen a version of time travel quite like it before and so found myself engrossed in trying to learn more about how it worked as I read. Claire North involves many philosophical and scientific discussions to address the questions raised, but it was not until at least half the novel had passed before I fully grasped how the time travel worked; as a result, the first half of the novel was spent mostly in frustration and confusion.
While the premise of the novel was brilliant, and the North’s grasp of words was fantastic, the novel did not grab me as much as I would have liked. The novel was slow. I had to force myself through the first half of the book as it built its way towards the main plot. This was, I presume, to help the reader understand how the time travel worked so the second half would be easier to grasp, but it was difficult to get through. It definitely picked up though, and I read the last 150 pages late into the night.
As a main character, Harry August was interesting but difficult to get a grasp of. He hardly seemed changed despite his many lives, the experiences of which should have affected his personality and life view. This was demonstrated in other characters, but Harry seemed mostly the same throughout, with the occasionally sentence telling us how he had changed rather than showing it. The antagonist of the book was fascinating and I would have really like to see more of him and his reasoning, although his final moments did seem out of character and somewhat of a disappointment after the entire build-up of the book.
Overall, while I did enjoy this novel, it was very difficult to get into at the beginning and the whole concept of time travelling which, while impressive, was confusing to get my head around. There were definitely areas where I would have liked to see more and others where I would have liked to see less. The structure fit the book’s premise, however, and made the book a lot more interesting to read as well as giving a bit more of an insight into Harry’s character.