Touch by Claire North. ★★★★1/2
Touch is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year. The idea behind Touch is that there exist “ghosts” who survive by possessing people’s bodies and transferring from body to body by touch. The narrator is one such ghost, who was beaten to death in an alleyway… but right before death gripped the shoulder of the attacker and thus lived on, in a new body.
A couple hundred years later, the narrator has negotiated a deal with a woman named Josephine. The narrator gets the use of Josephine’s body for three months, and she gets ten thousand euros and a new start on life. Only, before the three months are up, Josephine is assassinated by a shadowy organization bent on destroying all ghosts. Instead of running, the narrator decides to go looking for the truth and to seek vengeance for her death.
The narrator of Touch prefers to slip entirely inside the lives of the host bodies, taking both their names and genders and trying to construct a story of the body’s life. The narrator is never given a continuing gender, and all information about the original body is concealed, except for manner of death. The narrator is also nameless, although the shadowy organization calls them “Kepler.” The narrator (hence referred to as “Kepler” for convenience’s sake) tries to insist that they don’t have a self – they are which ever body they inhabit. Yet over the course of the book, Kepler does seem to come closer to admitting the truth that they exist as an individual, distinct from any of the lives they’ve stolen.
Something else I really love about Touch is the moral ambiguity and how Kepler is not a very good person. They are accused of being a parasite, and this claim is never really refuted. They are a parasite – their entire existence relies upon stealing time from other people, sometimes up to years at a time. Instead of denying it, Kepler will try to say that they are better than others of their kind, or point to people like Josephine, who’s body they inhabited willingly. There’s moments in Touch when you realize just how horrifying Kepler’s manner of existing is – imagine waking up with time from your live gone and with no idea of what someone else has been doing with your body. But given the narrator, you see the story entirely through Kepler’s point of view, in which they try to paint themself as sympathetic. They will constantly try to justify their actions, but really they will do about anything to survive. And can you blame them for wanting to keep living? The entire process is fascinating and makes me want to reread the book at some point in the future.
Touch is also very fast paced and incredibly gripping. It is not a short book, but I was driven to finish it in under twenty-four hours. Not only does Touch have an intriguing premise and some complex themes about identity and morality, it is also genuinely fun to read.
I highly recommend Touch. It’s interesting and thrilling and by far one of the best new releases of 2015. I am so glad that I read it.