The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

There are some ideas that are so common that every fifteen year old hanging out with their friend has them. Despite this, they scribble that idea into a little notebook and think to themselves ‘boy, this would make a great novel’. You could say that for the most part they are wrong, as the idea is pretty low hanging fruit, but the execution is what matters, not the idea.

So what is the idea this book talks about? The notion of a person who, when they die, goes back to live the same life over again. Yea, you’ve probably thought about that too, at least in the ‘man, if I could do it over again…’ sense. But here is the weird thing, where I imagined such a story being about the pain of memory and trying to make wrong all the things you screwed up the first time (and thus by consequence things up in a new and novel direction), the novel takes the story and imagines it as something of a spy thriller.

I don’t know. Part of me feels like she took the Ship of Theseus and turned it into Jaws. It isn’t bad at all, but it just felt like you could have told the whole story without that extra bit about living the same lives over and over again. In the author’s defense, she really does an excellent job of making all the material work to her advantage, and she makes all fifteen of the described lives very interesting and extremely well written. Even though she made her distinctions to this cliche story line via things I don’t normally love inĀ  my literature (secret societies and a sort of evil genius of an antagonist), I hadn’t actually enjoyed a novel as much as this one in some time. And playing with her own rules, she created a story that I was very engaged in and wanted to see developed further and further.

And then she dropped the ball. The ending was rather weak. This often does not bother me, but with this particular novel too much was built up and then kind of let go. Ultimately, the antagonist’s evil plans didn’t seem consequential enough, and I almost wondered what the harm would have ultimately been in letting him succeed. But I also wanted more from some of the peripheral elements in the story.

And that is something of a weird gripe to have with what you are reading. I got neither what I expected or wanted, and then was dissatisfied (no that’s not the right word. dissatisfied sounds like I didn’t enjoy it. Not satiated) not satiated by what I did end up getting, good as it was.

The silver lining I guess is that the trite plot conceit remains for someone else to exhaust later.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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