Replay is another riff on the theme of reliving your life with all your memories from the previous life still intact. It’s a close cousin of Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (henceforth FFLoHA) and a more distant relation of Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life.

Jeff, replaying his life, comes to the same conclusion and takes a different path the next time around. On the third replay, he’s not quite as enthusiastic about the whole thing any more. Still he keeps trying new ways of finding a meaning for his life.

I liked this book and yet I was a bit disappointed with it. Jeff generally only changes tack when he starts over (or when he meets another replayer), as if he was incapable of evaluating his life until he dies and starts again. After so many years of living, I would expect a man to know and understand himself better than that.

Jeff is also rather lacking in fantasy. A life of riches, and one of sex and drugs, and one of “back to basics” pastoralism – surely he should be able come up with more ideas than that, especially with potentially nearly unlimited resources! He could travel, learn things,

I was also expecting more depth of feeling. The book is written in a very matter-of-fact, almost bland tone, when Jeff is anything but dispassionate about what’s going on. The book never quite manages to convey any real emotion. The first, least interesting replay, feels like it takes forever. But Jeff’s supposed despair and rage against whoever or whatever is causing him to be reborn yet again merits three lines of attention.

The ending is a bit too pat, and the moral of the story too obviously served on a plate. We are so obviously supposed to wonder, what would I do differently if I got the chance to live again? And then told to live our life the best we can, not to waste it, because it’s the only one we have. Well, thanks for telling me.

Replay and FFLoHA have a lot in common, including the inevitability of ending up in the government’s hands, drugged and imprisoned, if one has the unfortunate idea of letting the public know that one knows the “future”. Replay is the “original”, published almost thirty years before FFLoHA, but I read FFLoHA before Replay so in my mind it’s the other way round, and that’s the direction I inevitably compare them.

Replay is less grand and more personal in scope. FFLoHA has an entire network of immortals, and a plot that involves a possibly-impending end of the world. Replay simply focuses on the effect that repeatedly reliving your life would have on you. It’s easy to get filthy rich when you know exactly which horse will win which race, and what stocks to pick, but it doesn’t make for a satisfying life. It’s hard to invest a life in family and caring for others, when in the end it’s all taken away from you.

In a way, FFLoHA is Replay replayed. It does some things better and some things worse. Can someone write a third replay, please?