Harry August is born in rural northern England in 1919, the bastard son of a wealthy landowner, and is adopted and raised by the estate's groundskeeper and his wife. He lives a full, if uneventful life, eventually succeeding to his adopted father's position, and dies in his seventies.
Then he is born again, into exactly the same life, with full memory of his prior life returning by the time he's four. This leads to the belief that he's mad, leading in turn to suicide by jumping off the roof of a mental hospital before he's ten years old.
And then he's born again, into exactly the same life, with his memories of his two prior lives returning by the time he's four.
His third life is more successful, for a good long while, though eventually he makes an important mistake. He also eventually connects with the Chronus Club, which will make his next few lives significantly easier.
Because Harry isn't unique; there are a surprising number of people like him. The Chronus Club is how the kalachakra--people like Harry--provide for the early rescue, safety, and comfort of their kind in the early years of their many returns to life. And because they remember their past lives at quite young ages, messages can be passed up and down the centuries, with a "child" giving the message to an old man or woman who will shortly die, and in their turn take the message further back.
In his eleventh life, a dying Harry August gets the message that the world is ending--faster and faster, for reasons future kalachakra can't identify, but which must be the work of other kalachakra. No one else gets the chance to change the course of events that have already happened. In his next life, Harry has to decide what to do, and whether it's even possible for him to undo the damage.
Then he finds that the damage is coming from someone he has known very well.
This is just a marvelous book. What Harry is and what it means is unfolded at exactly the right pace, holding the interest without straining the patience. I love how we get to know Harry, and how his multiple lives affect the development of his character and his view of the human race. Other characters are developed effectively and economically, keeping the focus on Harry and the game he and his adversary are playing across the decades and multiple lives.
It's a shame that this excellent book didn't get more attention earlier, and that it was published in a year in which the Hugo ballot got trashed. It would have been a worthy Best Novel nominee.
I bought this book.