Title:The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Author: Claire North
Date Added: September 15, 2017
Date Started: August 23, 2018
Date Finished: September 21, 2018
Reading Duration: 29 days
Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Mystery, Drama, Philosophical
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime. Harry August is on his deathbed. Again. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.” This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.
CW: Discussions of suicide, torture, and murder of sex workers.
We believed that we could change ourselves,
The past could be undone.
-Sarah McLachlan “Fallen”
When I was a child before any sort of indoctrination took hold, I believed dying was just a reset button, and I would start life over again right where I began. Upon realizing this was the premise of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, it was like having a religious experience that was less ironic and more absolute. I do not believe my child’s mind thought I’d retain all my prior life’s memories, but I am 100% certain I would suffer the same in my second life as the titular character and then spend the rest of them trying to do the impossible like Merida in Disney’s Brave and change fate. This is protagonist’s goal on a grander scale in Claire North’s brilliant debut novel.
Harry August is a kalachakra, a person for whom death and life are an infinite loop. At the cessation of the latter, they are reborn in the exact same place and time to relive their life anew with the knowledge that they’ve done all this before. “Kalachakra” was not a term made up by North; it is rather a Buddhist concept that means “wheel of time” (hi Robert Jordan) or “time cycles” with the latter term putting me in the mind of Chrono Trigger, specifically the song “Time Circuits.”
With more insights garnered from video games, I discovered the meaning of “kalachakra” from a video about Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which is another narrative about time loops not only of the essence, but also necessary to forestall the end of the world.