(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to We'll Go No More a-Roving, by No Dark Yet (Spotify, YouTube).
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you've probably seen me raving once and again about Claire North's work in general and about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August in particular. This young writer has quickly become one of my favourite authors and The Sudden Appearance of Hope was one of the books I was most eagerly awaiting this year. Fortunately, the wait is over and I can say that North has delivered another excellent book.
As in Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, the main protagonist of this new novel has a very special power: nobody remembers Hope Arden. After a few minutes, everybody forgets her face, her voice, even having talked to her or having met her. Thus, Hope has no job, no friends, no family (her parents don't remember her) and survives by stealing and constantly moving from one place to another.
The main difference with previous Claire North's novels is that, while Harry August and the protagonist of Touch were very experienced, having lived for centuries, Hope is barely a girl, insecure and desperately searching for her place in life, something that is even more difficult for her, given her particular nature:
Having no one else to know me, having no one to catch me or lift me up, tell me I'm right or wrong, having no one to define the limits of me, I have to define myself, otherwise I am nothing, just a... liquid that dissolves. Know yourself. But finding definition without all the... the daily things that give you shape - Mum, Dad, friend, sister, lover, work, hobby, job, home, travel - without the limits of place or society, I could define myself as anything at all. I am breath. I am mercy. I am the sea. I am knowledge. I am beauty. I am perfection. I am... anything at all. What am I, then?
Hope Arden is a fascinating character and the novel, a perfect exploration of her motives, her anxiety, her desires. She needs a reason to live by, and when she founds one in the form of revenge, it begins to define her. Her actions, her decisions, her interactions with other people, even if unilateral, make her change and evolve in a very believable and subtle way. The Hope Arden at the end of the book is very different from the one we met at the beginning. In addition, we also get to know some very interesting secondary characters, as Byron, for example, or Luca Evard. I would have liked to see more of Parker, though, who, contrarily to what I expected, plays a relatively minor role.
The theme of self-affirmation, of knowing oneself, of growing up, is perfectly blended with an action plot, almost that of a techno-thriller, by means of the other main element of the book: Perfection, the app that guides you to be your better self. This social network on stereoids is all the rage between the elite and becomes the ideal counterpoint to Hope's need of an identity definition. Perfection will give you points (and treats) if you follow its rules, which are modelled around some rather unattainable qualities: beauty, fame, money, fashion... All this, of course, ultimately leads to reflections on some of the favourite topics of the author: power, responsibility, privilege and the use of science and technology to control people.
North's prose is, as always, a delight to read and right on spot. It perfectly depicts Hope's obsessive personality, her insecurities and sudden changes of mood, her poignant sense of humor. And, again, shows how with a few sentences it is possible to completely describe a place or a person, something that North excels at:
Impressions of Nîmes: Unflashy but pretty, a little Paris for the south without the burden of being Paris. Medieval heritage prized over its Roman one. Fantastic chocolate shops, hugely overpriced. The smell of perfume, the sizzle of meat on the grill, children demanding the latest toy, the newest pretty fluffy thing, their gloves sewn together on long strings, a cold winter coming.
The professor was fifty-five at a pinch, diminutive, bespectacled and an expert in the meaning of meaning, whatever that meant. She had the lungs of an opera singer and the fury of a pitbull, and the crowd dispersed before her wrath, and so did I.
For all its many virtues, the novel also has some minor issues. For instance, I found it to be a bit slow to start. Also, it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief with the way Hope's power works sometimes. However, after the first third, the plot finally takes off and we get some more information on how Hope is forgotten and the relationship of her "gift" with Perfection treatments, so these problems are somehow mitigated.
All in all, another excellent novel from Claire North and one that I highly recommend, as I've been recommending each and every book she has published under this pen name. Have you got Perfection? Well, I've got Claire North.