With a world in chaos after the end of World War One, our protagonist opens his new born eyes takes his first look at the world, but it is a sight he will see again, and again. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Catherine Webb, begins in a toilet in a train station in Berwick-UponTweed – and by the end of the printed pages presented to you between two covers, you’re none the wiser as to if the story will ever end. Harry finds himself, after his death, being born again in that same toilet in Berwick train station.
He learns that he has been born again and that he is an Ouroboros – someone who lives in cycles of life, destruction, and death. As he struggles living with his second life he falls into sadness and lunacy. The memories of his previous life haunt him and leave him with knowledge years beyond his new age.
Soon though, he begins to understand how he can use this to his advantage. All good protagonists need a nemesis though – and Harry’s comes in the shape of Vincent, another Ouroboros, but one who is hell bent on viewing and controlling the universe like a god and wants to achieve this with the production of a Quantum Mirror. Harry, supported by the Cronus Club – a secret society of those who live reincarnated lives –, and Vincent play a game of cat and mouse through repeated centuries as Harry tries desperately to find out when Vincent was born so that he can ensure that he is never conceived, and in doing so save the world.
To call this a story about time-travel would be to massively undersell Webb’s writing and storytelling ability. This novel would likely fit into science-fiction, and if you’re not familiar with this genre then this extremely readable and fast paced book is a perfect introduction. This book is what Groundhog Day could have been if it had stretched over whole lifetimes.