My name is Hope Arden, and you won't know who I am. But we've met before....
It started when I was 16 years old. A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A friend who looks at me and sees a stranger.
No matter what I do, the words I say, the crimes I commit, you will never remember who I am.
That makes my life difficult. It also makes me dangerous.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope is an unforgettable tale of one woman's quest for identity.
©2016 Claire North (P)2016 Hachette Audio
"[Narrator] Gillian Burke's performance is unforgettable. It's smooth, polished, and oh so graceful.... Burke's performance is as addictive as the story itself." (AudioFile)
I haven't read it in print, but the narrator was excellent and many internal dialogs seem like the kind of material that works better spoken then read.
Hope sitting outside of her parents' house and looking in, running through how she could interact with her mother, yet knowing they would not remember her, was incredibly sad. On the flip side, it was bittersweet to realize that her younger sister (who had a mental disability) could remember her and when they reconnect later in the book, you feel a sliver of hope for human connection.
I found this book engrossing almost immediately. Claire North has a knack for giving her characters depth and feeling and normalcy, while simultaneously providing them one isolating and inalienable oddity that makes them other and apart from the rest of humanity. The peculiarity of the protagonist of the book, the eponymous Hope, is that she is not memorable. On first glance, this seems a minor thing - but this does not mean she is ordinary or has a common face or just isn't all that interesting. It means, as she approached her 16th birthday, people who had known her all her life, slowly began to forget her. Forget she was in the room, forget she was in the house, forget she went to your school, and eventually, entirely forgot who she was. She would flit away from one's short term memory and never imprint on one's long term memory. Her mother and father forgot who she was. And what seems a simple conceit - a main character who people can't remember - becomes a central pivot to explore loneliness and relationships and society and what it means to be human. If no one remembers you, you can't hold down a normal job or get regular care at a hospital, you can't date or make friends, you are forever an unknown quantity and unmoored to your surroundings. In response to this inability to attach to anyone, Hope becomes an accomplished thief (usually of jewels) and makes her way in the world, filling the spaces where human interaction would be with knowledge and trying to stay connected to sanity through discipline and professionalism.
North takes this epic plot twist, this woman who technology remembers (CCTV, online chats, etc.) but everyone else forgets, and adds in another character, albeit one that is purely technology. The book pairs Hope's daily life with a larger plot involving an app called Perfection. Perfection offers its namesake to users - points add up for good choices, subtracted for bad, coupons and invitations to services and events that make you more perfect. Through this app, the author is able to explore many issues coming to a head in society (the intrusiveness of technology, the striving for impossible looks, the push to assimilate, the shallowness of thought, the annihilation of individuality, the trading of privacy for convenience). The central story and action that unwinds throughout the book is triggered by Hope stealing the sourcecode for the app, followed by the exploration of whether the app's algorithm for perfection is vile and destructive, what lengths another character will go to in order to destroy it, and whether the app (and treatments it suggests) could make Hope memorable.
In the end, the blend of ideas and characters, along with plenty of action and pathos, made the book difficult to put down. Highly recommended for people who like their heroines with a quirk, the technology with a grain of salt, and their morality in a gray area.
Hope Arden has inside-out-amnesia. That is, while she can remember the world, the world forgets her. Her photographs remain, and she can leave a trace in documents and on the internet. But, if you have an interaction with her, you’ll forget her and your actions alongside her.
On the one hand, it gives her what one character insistently describes as the ultimate freedom, the endless capacity to reinvent herself. Without a past, without the capacity to leave a mark on the world around her, she can do things the rest of us could never imagine. She is, for instance, a superb thief. She can pick up an item in plain view, duck behind a corner for a few seconds, and walk back again, forgotten and unsuspected. She also proves to be an unparalleled investigator, someone who can interrogate a particular witness, get a piece of the story, and then come back a minute later to start the interrogation again using those new bits to leverage out harder to find ones.
More broadly, though, Hope experiences her condition as a curse. It hurts when her own parents forget her, at first selling her things because they don’t recognize them as hers and later losing all sense that they had a second child. And she has no capacity to fall in love, to form friendships, or to live in community. She is a constant newcomer, someone who, having no past as far as the world is concerned, effectively has no future. She is a perpetual observer rather than someone who is fully alive.
That premise is provocative in its own right, and “Claire North” (apparently it’s a pseudonym) is a gifted enough writer to sense what she has. Claire’s condition becomes a stepping-off point for reflecting on what it means to be human. Who are we if we cannot leave a lasting mark on the world around us? To what degree are we, or should we, be shaped by group and social pressures?
It takes a while for the central conflict to become fully clear – North is very skilled, here and in the even a little better The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and she shows her hand slowly – but Hope is both attracted to and horrified by a Scientology-like app call Perfection. The app works by encouraging consumers to make “healthy choices” – like eating well, working out, buying flattering clothes, and being seen with other out-to-be-perfect people – and it rewards its top-tier participants with “programming,” eventually revealed to be surgery that alters their personality.
The result of such engineering is a cadre of bland movie-star types, people whom the world seems to value but who appear to Hope (and to a couple other key characters) as soul-less. They have, in other words, forgotten their true selves in favor of the marketed, packaged identity of corporate America.
And there you have the central conflict of the novel: at one extreme a woman incapable of experiencing community and its pressures and, at the other, a process that amplifies a false sense of community over all other types of identity.
This is, in other words, a philosophical novel disguised as sci-fi/fantasy. Or maybe that’s what sci-fi/fantasy should always aspire to. It’s just rarely this good.
Further complicating the scenario here, Hope is a Black woman of Muslim descent. She is, after Ralph Ellison (who shows us how the Black man is, in some crucial ways, invisible in white America), or Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (who give us the Fantastic Four’s Invisible girl), or even a host of very contemporary political voices who insist that all Muslims are subsumed under the identity of their faith, just the type to be made invisible. As a consequence, North is after something not just philosophical but topical as well.
All those conflicts get subsumed within a story that is still a pretty good story. I’ve said enough already without getting into the other characters who, while not remembering Hope, do come to understand that she exists and develop relationships with her by leaving themselves notes about their interactions. Those characters develop different feelings about the nature of her invisibility and the potential for Perfection to perfect or destroy the world. And they work at cross purposes to safeguard or sabotage the app.
I do think this one could have worked just as well if it were a good shot shorter, but North writes so well that it’s hardly a complaint. I’m happy to be lost in her work and her worlds. She has the capacity, like no one else I can think of at this scale, to change one fundamental premise of human identity and then to measure the implications of that change with unwavering insight. I am very much looking forward to whatever she does next. She writes novels that ought to be written.
Fantastic narration, memorable characters, and mind-bending plots get me every time.
The sudden appearance of anything written by this author's prodigious pen is cause for celebration and much to be desired.
The very existence of a person like the amazingly talented Catherine Webb (aka, Claire North) is enough to make any aspiring writer green with envy. Here she is, just scarcely into her thirties and already she has authored eighteen novels!--an average that exceeds one each year, starting from when her first one was completed at the age of fourteen. (Good god!) To say she is prolific does not do her justice. At this rate, she is in league with the likes of John Updike, who was well known for his staggering book-a-year pace. Now keep in mind that Webb also works full time as an accomplished lighting designer, And let's not even bother discussing her "hobbies" (exotic martial arts anyone? studying Mandarin??). Well...perhaps Ms. Webb really hails from Krypton and was delivered to planet Earth via a tiny spaceship in the mid-eighties. That would explain a lot and make all of us feel a little better in the process.
Anyway, I'm sure she really is from England as she claims. She certainly sounds British from the free Audible interview she gave on "The Sudden Appearance of Hope," posted back in April (and still available *hint*). In the interview, she discusses a bit of her writing method, which involves letting the novel reveal itself to her as she writes rather than knowing exactly what she will say ahead of time. She says she loves to write, and of this there can be no doubt. The beauty and artistry of her language is evident on every page. If you haven't discovered the rest of the Claire North series of novels, oh my God! I highly recommend them.
Her debut novel, "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" was nominated for several awards, including an Arthur C. Clark award. Her follow-up novel, "Touch," although not *quite* as fantastic, still is unbelievably fantastic and ranks among my favorites. Both are expertly narrated by the phenomenal Peter Kenny, who by the author's own admission (and to her delight) brought out aspects of these works via the strength of his interpretation that she had not been aware were present.
Kenny does not narrate this latest work; instead we are treated to the great Gillian Burke, whose voice is more-or-less a delicious, dripping honeycomb of presence and persona. She, I'm afraid, is another superwoman, and one wayward glance at her website will make you wonder what you, a mere mortal, have been doing with your life (certainly not herding llamas in the high Andes like her or deep-sea diving off of one of the four continents on which she has lived). While difficult to describe how exactly, Burke has managed to capture the Peter Kenny vibe for this novel, such that if one is used to the feel of the proceeding Claire North books, nothing askew will be detected.
Now, as for the book itself, the writing is as languid and vivid and as much Claire North as one could hope to find. As usual, a solitary protagonist speaks directly to you, hypno-pathically lulling you into her world; and as usual, the protagonist is "different" from most people, different in fact from anyone you could ever imagine meeting in your own non-Claire North world.
In "Harry August," our protagonist experiences life as an infinite temporal loop; in "Touch," he (or perhaps it's she) experiences it through an infinite set of inhabited lives; and now in "Hope," this new character exists in infinitely renewable moments. No record of her prior moments can ever be recorded because each one vanishes immediately from the memory of all who encounter her. It's a fascinating concept and continues what I am calling the Claire North tradition of blowing my tiny, little mind with her SciFi witchcraft.
As with her other books, a sinister antagonist of epic proportions opposes the proceedings here; and interestingly enough, as in the proceeding novels, a captivity motif persists. It is as if these otherwise unstoppable characters, no matter their amazing abilities, still face the same human potential for wickedness that haunts us all. But maybe I'm reading too much into it. Still, it doesn't take a PhD in Literature to detect an overriding theme involving the dehumanizing horror of celebrity culture, here, and that is fortunate since I lack such a credential.
I can say that at minimum what one will find in "The Sudden Appearance of Hope" is a superbly-written thriller designed to keep the reader guessing all the way to the last sentence. It's the sort of book you'll want to keep around in your library until, like the conceit of its central character, the very memory of it has faded just enough to make you forget it was ever there, so that one day you can have the pleasure of discovering it all over again.
I struggled to finish this book. The well thought out and intriguing story kept me determined to cross the finish line. However it is in serious need of some good editing. Points are made, remade, pounded into the ground, beaten into us, and then revisited again. When this was occurring it was eye rolling at best, annoying to the point of walking away from the book for days at worst.
Claire North is an excellent writer, but that should not exempt her works from intelligent editing. Do try her other books, but I would give this one a pass.
One other note, the books description does not give a proper idea of what this is all about. Very catchy, yes, but somewhat misleading.
I love the author. I devour all the books from her that I read. Love her writing and the way she tells story.
I just feel it follows the same story structure from The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. It's almost the same journey, the same pitfalls and the same thrills.
I couldn't predict exactly what would happen next, but I could definitely predict what I would feel next every time something was about to happen, as I read so much of her books before.
I still would really recommend the reading.
i see a mumber of negative reviews. i would disagree quite strongly....this is most excellent.
i say no more
This wonderful, wait wonderful does not even come close to describing the journey this experience took me on. I feel transformed, Gillian's voice is still speaking and the writing the whole package was moving. Characters depicted so spot on they moved into my psyche, in a good way. Thank you for this life altering book.
I don't often write reviews due to the repetition, but I am astounded. This story weaves an emotional journey of loneliness, covert existence, neuroscience, conspiracy, corporate espionage, and the possibilities of the "big data phenomenon" all rolled up into an incredibly well-written, smooth-flowing tale.
A work of good fiction needs believability, and even if audacious, the reader can sit back and think, "What if?" I have caught myself doing this again and again. As well, this is not one of those books where the listener has a good idea of the ending long before you get there which, in my opinion, only makes the story that much better.
If this author continues at this caliber, I expect to see a very long and distinguished career. The narration was smooth and well-matched to the story.
A good story, but in need of some aggressive editing. The plot stalls out for a long time in the 2nd half of the book.
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