The Sudden Appearance of Hope
by Claire North
Given the circumstances, perhaps it's not surprising that Hope Arden's disability never made it into the DSM: while she can interact with the world, from everyone else's perspective, it is always for the first time. As soon as people are distracted from her presence, they forget her, their minds conveniently substituting new Hope-less memories and explanations. And then Hope gets to meet them all over again. As she puts it:
First impressions-- my life is about making a good first impression. When one attempt fails, I will go away, and reinvent myself, and return to try again. Though first impressions may be the only thing I have, at least I get to practise until they're right.
Naturally, Hope's career and relationship options are somewhat limited. As she notes:
Things that are difficult, when the world forgets you:
Things that are easy, when the world forgets you:
- Getting a job
- Receiving consistent medical attention
- Getting a loan
- Certificated education
- Getting a reference
- Getting service at restaurants
- Casual cruelty
- Angst-free one-night stands (w/condoms)
- Not tipping
Perhaps unsurprisingly, she ends up embracing a career as a thief, drifting through life, choosing score after score, often to settle some petty spite of her own. No matter how incompetent her heists, she never gets caught because all she needs to do is distract her captors for a few minutes to erase her presence. But then Hope encounters Perfection, and her unmemorable life is irrevocably changed.
Perfection: a brand new lifestyle app. Give it your schedule, your access, your health stats, your bank accounts, your total attention, and in return it will optimize your life, shaping a new perfect you. Touched by the tragedy of a woman who fails to satisfy Perfection, Hope finds herself set on a course to destroy it.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope is a book out of left field. As the names may have indicated, subtle the book is not, but it makes up for its directness in pure passion. I suspect that reader enjoyment will be heavily predicated on tolerance for pretty anvilicious "message" books. Plus, I had to love the gleeful mileage North got out of double entendres with Hope, Perfection, and more. I'm already a fan of Kate Griffin/Claire North, so perhaps unsurprisingly, I found North's heavily descriptive, almost stream-of-consciousness style utterly captivating. At moments, it's also just plain funny, particularly in the lists that Hope continually writes for herself.
For me, the book's major weakness was the characters. I never really felt connected to any of them, which may have been something of a blessing, as North is as casually brutal to them as she is to the sidekicks in the Matthew Swift series. Perhaps some of my sense of alienation came from Hope's condition. As one character says of her,
It's a peculiar thing, but I find emotion, when it comes to you, rather hard to engage with [...] Instead of feelings, I find with you there are only facts.
She is, naturally, a drifter, herself oddly disconnected from the world. Despite her many heists, she spends most of her time simply drifting, and more often reacts to situations with blind flailing rather than planning. As she puts it:
Having no one to define the limits of me, I have to define myself, otherwise I am nothing [...] I don't know what my destination is, but I keep on travelling, surrounded by other people's stories, absorbing them, and in their way, though they are not me, they become me. I am just… travelling.
With a character who cannot be remembered, development of relationships is effectively impossible, and for me, this led to a sense of alienation from the other characters, a perspective that Hope seemed to share. As she says towards the end of the story of one of the major characters: "How strange to think of her as something human."
Unsubtle it may be, but my favourite part of the book was the way North uses Perfection and Hope's condition as a lens to examine the feedback loop that is human interaction with the world. Some of the more memorable quotes:
Perfection is derived by a consensus of society, Perfect-- to perfectly fit the mould.
Alone, you can lose yourself, or you may find yourself, and most of the time you do both.
Shall we break down the truth, the bitter, unloved, bloody-nosed truth? Tell me, in a world where wealth is power, and power is the only freedom, what would desperate men not do to be heard? [...] The internet gave us all the power of speech, and what did we discover? That victory goes to he who shouts the loudest, and that reason does not sell.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope is a unique story, and I'd have a hard time describing its perfect audience. However, if you're intrigued by an unusual character and a thought-provoking dialogue about the way society shapes us, Hope is well worth a look. As she says,
I think there has to be a moment when you turn round and permit yourself to be defined by the world that surrounds you.
~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Redhook Books, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~