The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

By Claire North

Death and rebirth have been subjects that have interested people for as far back as we can remember; Religions around the world are based on them. Claire North explores these themes in her novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

I was drawn to this book because I thought it was going to be about a man who is born, lives, dies then is reborn into another body in another year. However, it is about a man who is born New Year’s Eve 1918 and is reborn, after every death, on exactly the same day and in exactly the same circumstances. The thing that differs is his knowledge. In each new life, at around school age, he remembers the previous life and therefore uses this acquired information in a variety of ways to suit his needs. Some of his choices have better outcomes than others and occasionally he is forced to take his own life. Each new life is an ongoing adventure for Harry.

The book begins with a very short chapter comprising of an unusual conversation between Harry at seventy eight on his death bed and a seven year old girl. In an adult tone she relays an important message to and through Harry: The world is ending.

Apart from the obvious and his intelligence (most of which is gained from his memory of previous lives), Harry is an unremarkable guy living in unremarkable circumstances. He has family issues like the rest of us and, in general, doesn’t seem like the most interesting man although he does seem to have a dark sense of humour. The catalyst for Harry to step out of his rather boring life is his visit from this young girl. This provides him with a purpose and allows us to see what type of person he really is when pushed to the extreme.

Claire writes with great detail and fluidity. She seems to have done her research as the book is filled with references about World War 1, Russia and science, to name but a few. She’s created character well, showing us how people are through their actions.

‘… a Mrs Mason, a cheerful, rose-faced woman who could crack a chicken’s neck between thumb and forefinger and who didn’t believe in this new-fangled NHS business, not when there were gooseberries in the garden and rosehip cordial in the kitchen cupboard.’ (P197)

The story jumps between lives but does have structure so it’s not too confusing. What is interesting, apart from the main story line, is how Harry behaves in each of his lives. How he changes some of the things he does or how he doggedly sticks to some actions. It’s intriguing to the reader to not only see what it could be like to be reborn but to examine fate and question if we can really change the events of our lives if we choose or had chosen an alternate path.

This book was definitely worth a read. And with clearly an intelligent and talented author, I will be keeping a look out for her other novel Touch.

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Through the Looking Glass

I’m ashamed to say that this reading of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass was my first.  Blush!  Please don’t wait thirty-four years like me.  It is wonderful: funny, clever, imaginative and completely captures the child in you.

Through The Looking Glass 2

Some of the language would be considered too advanced for children by todays writing and publishing experts.  However, some of the trickier words are explained in the back of the book.  Parents and schools may think this is a great idea, but speak to anyone in the writing industry and they will say that the most important thing is to getting the child to read and enjoy books without having to stop and start and loose the thread of the story, which will lead to the child giving up on the book.   Anyway, we’re not talking children here, we’re talking adults.

Through the Looking Glass, originally published in 1871, it is the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  However, Looking Glass completely stands alone and it is not necessary to have read Wonderland.

Carroll begins this tale with a sleepy Alice who is fascinated by the potential of the world inside a vast mirror hanging over the fireplace.  She wonders at the differences of the other world, “I can see all of it when I get upon a chair – all but the bit just behind the fireplace.”  P12.  Intriguing!  Along with Kitty she ventures in and takes us on the journey with her.

One of the best things for me about this book was the craziness.  The characters are very matter-of-fact in their dialogue and they use words and language differently to Alice, “Feather!  Feather!’  the Sheep cried again,” p72.  We don’t really know what this means and never really find out.  “’Oh, please!  There are some scented rushes!’   Alice cried in a sudden transport of delight.  They really are –and  such beauties’!’ / ‘You needn’t say “please” to me about ‘em,’ the Sheep said, without looking up from her knitting: ‘I didn’t put ‘em there, and I’m not going to take ‘em away.’”  P73. Throughout the book we see how Alice’s polite English is not understood by the mirrors’ inhabitants.  It’s interesting to be shown in a children’s book how language is used, understood and misunderstood.

English and the way we use it is questioned throughout, for example, “’I see nobody on the road,’ said Alice. / ‘I only wish I had such eyes,’ the King remarked in a fretful tone.  ‘To be able to see Nobody!  And at the distance too!  Why it’s as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!’” p94.

The story is short and you can nip through this book with some pace as its flows fantastically.  As an adult you really do want to find out what happens next and who will Alice will stumble upon.  It has a dream-like state which allows you to accept anything that happens.  So, when the Queen suddenly starts bleating and turns into an obsessively knitting sheep, you don’t even question it: you chuckle and romp on.

I absolutely recommend this book for all ages.  Please read it, it won’t take long and you’ll get so much out of it, especially if you are interested in writing and language.  There is so much more I could talk about in this little paperback, but I’m not going to ruin it for you.  The copy I was reading (and will probably read again) is, Collins Classics, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, 2010, Harper Collins.

The Thread Review

The Thread

 

Victoria Hislop’s, third novel, The Thread is an intimate tale of the lives of the people in Thessaloniki, Greece.   The tale deals with wider issues of war, politics and immigrants influencing this city and uses these to look more in depth at how individuals’ lives are affected.

 

The reader follows the life little Katerina after the Turkish army destroy her home in Asia Minor.  Her life is changed forever as she is forced to flee with nothing.  In Greece, Dimitri is born to a wealthy textiles owner.  But devastation shakes the community when an accidental fire ravages the city mixing the inhabitants and wiping out homes and businesses.  During this, Dimitri and Katerina’s lives are bound together forever.

 

Through poor Katerina we are exposed to an ever evolving community.  Dimitri’s life plays more of a political role and offers us access to the inner workings of the wealthy.  The community itself is one of contrasts and struggles; the tight-knit, multi-cultural working class never to be found with a closed door contrasts, yet co-exists, with the wealthy inhabitants, locked away in their mansions.

 

Hislop ties these people’s lives and relationships together through their continual struggles; some of which are self-imposed and some of which are cast so brutally upon them by both God and man.   Each character is a well written individual, yet is tied to the community and unified by their connection to Thessaloniki.

 

The Thread by Victoria Hislop

 

A thread is woven through this story with the modistra (seamstress), Katerina.  It weaves through a hard working Jewish family, wealthy Greeks, Muslims, friends, family, the rich and the poor.  Using what has traditionally been seen a female pursuit, the craft of sewing is used to tie the pieces of this community and story together.  This thread offers us an opportunity to see how characters utilize this skill: from domestic pleasure to purely commercial gain to hiding important secrets.

 

Hislop uses sewing in a similar way to Alice Walker’s Colour Purple and Tracey Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn.  The oppressed are brought together through a common craft and skill.  It is, more importantly, a support network.  The Colour Purple, for all its trauma and devastating events, uses this technique to offer the protagonist respite and a glimmer of light.  The companionship, support, a little piece of serenity, safety among female confidantes and a tiny bit of self-confidence at the completed job, are all positive elements which have been used throughout history to unite; now, these elements are being used to tell a story.

 

There is so much more to traditional crafts and Hislop is another writer who shows us just how important this seemingly insignificant past-time is.

 

The book’s not perfect: sometimes elements are a little over explained, but it’s definitely worth a read.  Not just for the story, but for its technique too.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and it’s pace makes it an easy page-turner.   It’s an entertaining, fascinating and even an educational read as Hislop’s historically factual details are mixed with fictional lives.