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The title of the novel sets out the main idea. Harry August lives his life again and again. Each time his body dies, he starts again, but with the memory of his previous lives. He was born in the 1920s, and with each life, he has more knowledge and skills. Normally, he lives until the last decades of the twentieth century, although in his second life he is so disturbed by his memories that he killed himself when he was still a child, and in a later life he managed to see the early years of the twentieth century. He is not the only person like this: many people are reborn after each life, and they can pass information back in time, taking it with them from a death to the next birth. With each life, small details vary a little, with the illnesses people get, what choices they make, and when they die; but the big events, such as wars, stay the same. Individuals come to realize that they might be able to alter the course of history but doing things like killing Hitler before he came to power. But it turns out that there is a club of these people who live these lives, and they have rules about what should not be done. It is called the Cronos Club, and it has strict rules about not altering the course of history. It turns out that they have ways to stop people from doing this. The main plot idea of the novel is that the end of the world is getting nearer with each life, according to messages passed down from the future. If this pattern continues, the end of the world will be soon. So the Cronos club is setting out to work out why this is happening, and how to stop it. Harry is fascinated by the advances in science that are possible, and he has to decide whether he is on the side of the Cronos club or whether he wants to be part of the project that significantly changes history. To that extent, this is a psychological thriller with a strong science fiction component.
However, the most interesting idea in the novel is one that we see more in passing: as Harry goes through many lives, he becomes very old in his self. He is approaching a thousand years old, even when he has the body of a child. He has tried different careers in different lives, and he is able to try different sorts of living. He tends not to have close romantic relationships, and he does not want to repeat similar paths in each life. So he tries various jobs: he becomes an academic in one life, while in another he becomes a criminal. This helps to make plainer what parts of Harry's life are fixed and inevitable, and what he could really change. If this were possible, we would be able to find out the limits of our personalities, and to know what effect each of our choices about education, careers, and even love really had on our lives. On the other hand, it is worth noting that Harry does not start out the same each lifetime; he accumulates experience, knowledge, and trauma, and that changes his goals for each life.
The name of the author "Claire North" is a pseudonym, which leaves us guessing whether the author of this complex novel is someone we have heard of previously. The book is well written, managing to cross reference the different lives, but not giving too much detail. Setting out 15 lives in one book is a daunting task, and North manages it deftly. The performance of the unabridged audiobook by Peter Kenny also keeps up the energy. Harry is English but in many of his lives spends times in other countries, which means that Kenny has to adopt a number of different accents, and he carries off this difficult task without sounding silly.
© 2014 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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