A version of this post originally appeared on February 18, 2023.
I revisited a favorite, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, the novel that got me into Claire North. This time around I read it as an audiobook, and may I observe that Peter Kenny is excellent. North has this habit of sending her characters around the globe, and Kenny narrates the accents from six different continents like it's nothing. I bet he could do penguin accents if it came to that.
Harry is born in England in 1919 and is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. August. He serves in the second world war and proceeds to live an unremarkable existence. Things only get interesting after his death, when he is reborn into the same circumstances: same year, same location, same birth parents, same adoptive parents, same soul. By age three, when memories of his first life begin to resurface, the young Harry goes mad. This is a common reaction for members of the Cronus Club, those rare individuals who recycle their lives, though Harry doesn't learn of them until life number three.
It's such an enchanting premise: what would you do if you could learn from your mistakes, if death held no sway over you? It's a captivating thought experiment, though an unlikely plot for a novel. Characters who don't fear death get tiresome after a while.
Fortunately for the sake of the narrative, a character named Vincent develops a technology that can wipe the memories of Cronus Club members, thereby upping the stakes from trivial to existential. In the process, he is accidentally destroying the world. Also he's Harry's best friend.
North's characters are prone to getting into abstract arguments, debating their way through topics with whole philosophical essays that pass for dialogue. This is not a criticism. It's my favorite part of science fiction, where you get to muse over unexpected What If scenarios.
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.