I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The First Fifteen LIves of Harry August by Claire North

This is the story of Harry August, whose father was the "lord of the manor" on an estate in northern England, and upon hearing of his wife's unfaithfulness, rapes the maid. When she becomes pregnant, she is kicked out without references.  She scrapes together the last of her money to pay for a train ticket to Edinburgh, where her family is located.  On the way, she goes into labor in a bathroom and a kind couple delivers him on January 1, 1919.  She bleeds to death before the medic can get there.  She had told this couple about the Augusts who might take him in.  With the help of Harry's biological spinster aunt, who pays the Augusts, their groundskeeper,  to raise the child.  Harry's adoptive mother dies when his is seven and his father retreats inside himself.  Harry then goes on to enlist during World War II, where he saw little action and would go on to lead an unremarkable life, until his death in the 1970s when he dies of multiple melanomas.

Then Harry is born again, in the same manner, but when he reaches the age of four, he has full knowledge of the life he led before.  This drives him, as it does others of his kind, crazy and he is put in a mental institute and jumps to his death off the top of the building at the age of seven. In his third life, he seeks answers in religion and travels the earth searching for the answers to his existence.  Again, he dies of melanoma and is reborn.  This time, he studies medicine and meets the first female surgeon in Britain, whom he marries.  When he slips up and tells her his story, she laughs it off, until the things he says will happen soon, actually  do, she has him committed to a mental institution.   While life in these institutions was horrible at this time, at least he wasn't being put  on any drugs, until one day his psychiatrist has him held down and injects him with what could be LSD, ecstasy, anti-psychotics and various poisons of the day.  When his wife visits he tries to communicate what he is going through, knowing that as a doctor, she could help him, but he is unable to move or talk.

Eventually, a man named MacPherson, a British spy, gets him out of that hellhole, but he has an agenda of his own.  He has heard of a group of people that are mentioned in the small footnotes of history called the Cronus Club, which has been around for centuries and seems to be born over and over again, and therefore has knowledge of the future.  He offers Harry information on the Chronis Club if he will tell  him about future events.  At first, this works out fine. Harry does not give out too many specifics.  But soon, his relationship with MacPherson changes and he wants in-depth details and Harry realizes that he could seriously change the timeline and cause damage.  He escapes, knowing that he will eventually be caught, with the express purpose of mailing two letters: one to his wife via a friend, apologizing for everything and the other to a trusted friend and colleague asking him to please post an ad in three newspapers .  He is then caught and the gloves come off. He is physically beaten, given drugs, and psychologically tortured for three days, before Virginia, a member of the Chronis Club arrives to tell him to meet her at Trafalgar Square on July 1, 1940, and she would explain all.  She tells him he will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in his next life and suggests that since the psychologists of the time were Freudian, he always has the option of the confessional, even if it does freak out the priests.  She gives him a pen knife and suggests the thigh, as the femoral artery hurts less and bleeds out the quickest.     

In his fifth life, he studies physics and meets up with Virginia who gives him an overall view of the club.  There are many in various cities around the world and they are always moving.  The future and past generations communicate with each other by leaving messages on stones and such or by passing it down from person to person.  While he is allowed to play with the timeline a little bit (saving a friend's life, making money off the stock market) they are not allowed to do anything drastic, such as killing Hitler.  They are also expected to donate money to the children's fund to set up new ones in life.  Also, he is never to reveal where and when he was born, or what his true name is.  She explains the two deaths available to the people of their kind: the Forgetting, where their brains are given electrical shocks, wiping the memory clean and then they are killed.  When they are born again, they will have no memory of their previous lives.  The other way is to be killed in the womb and never be born.  That has been done only once before when a man from the thirty-years-war in the 17th Century is tired of all of the death and destruction and wants to do something.  He goes to the most powerful kingdom of the time, France, and tells the king of the future.  Soon, France has taken over Europe and most of Africa.  Technology is accelerated and by 1953 two nuclear bombs are set off from Australia, causing a nuclear winter, killing everything on the planet.   Those that are reborn, send messages back through time about what happened and that this man needs to be stopped and he is killed before being born.

Now, at the end of Harry's eleventh life, a young girl appears at his hospital bed and tells him the news from the future that the earth is ending much sooner than normal.  Harry knows who is behind this, a young student he met as a professor at Oxford.  When he finds him, he gives into the temptation to help him build a Quantum Mirror, which would, to quote Douglas Adams give the answers to "life, the universe, and everything."  Finally, he would know who or what he is and his purpose in life.  Instead of stopping him, he helps him, but the longer he does this, the more he realizes that it is wrong and he must stop him.

Soon the two are locking horns across lifetimes and Harry must resort to sneaky tactics to try to keep this student from his goal, which is already wrecking havoc in the world with the invention of machines years before their time, and the inevitable next step the scientists will take.  Members of the Chronis Club are siding with the student, and Harry must be careful of who he can trust.  More importantly, he must discover the student's origins and end him before he ends the world.      

I read this book in one sitting.  I could not put it down.  In a way, these two men have all the time in the world; the truth is this is a game and the stakes are high.  If Harry cannot stop him soon, the world will be lost and everyone in it.  Harry is the only one strong enough and smart enough to win this game, but his student will not go down easy and will try to take Harry down with him.          

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/First-Fifteen-Lives-Harry-August/dp/0316399620/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472647314&sr=1-1&keywords=the+first+fifteen+lives+of+harry+august                                  

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