The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North. ★★★1/2
What is perfection? Is there such a thing as the perfect person? How do we arrive at our definition of such a thing?
Hope Arden is a young woman with a peculiar condition – no one can remember her. She can hold a conversation with someone, start to befriend them, but the next time they see her, they won’t remember ever having met her. In a world where she subsists on first impressions, Hope makes a living as a thief. If she’s caught by the police, all she has to do is wait for them to forget her. Then, during the course of a diamond heist, Hope manages to anger some powerful people, the ones behind this new hit app called Perfection, which helps you become “your most perfect self.” For the first time in her life, Hope is being chased. Even though those pursuing her can’t recall ever meeting her.
There were things I enjoyed about The Sudden Appearance of Hope, but yet again I’m left wondering if I’m too familiar with Claire North’s writing style. Hope’s voice sounds like pretty much every first person narrator Claire North has ever written. It also felt a bit pretentious, possibly because of all the random facts constantly being spewed. It’s justified within the text as being the way Hope fills up the loneliness in her life, but it makes Hope sound like a self absorbed academic instead of a twenty-four year old who never finished high school. It reminded me a lot of a character from one of North’s other books, Harry August, who has life experiences which are completely different from her’s.
I do think The Sudden Appearance of Hope could use some slimming down. Even besides the repetition of random facts, it feels like some sections were digressions. Given all that, it’s surprising that it remains as fast paced and thrill oriented as it is. I didn’t find it as riveting as Touch, but I thought it managed to manage the pacing better than The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.
As usual with Claire North, there were some interesting themes and ideas at the heart of this. The criticism of the idea that “perfection” exists and is attainable is wound threw the novel. North also points out that our ideas of “perfection” are shaped by the power structures of the world we live in. At one point Hope, a mixed race woman, muses on if it’s even possible to fulfill society’s definition of “perfect” if you’re not white and male.
Hope herself seemed more interesting in theory than execution. Part of it’s definitely the “standard Claire North voice” but it also feels like she lacked motivation. While she wasn’t completely passive, it often felt like the plot was driving her instead of her being the one to drive the plot. Also don’t expect an explanation for why everyone forgets Hope. That’s not really how Claire North novels work.
It’s hard to describe a general audience to recommend The Sudden Appearance of Hope to. I think the people who will like it best are those who are intrigued by the ideas it explores, such as perfection and what it’s like to live in a world where everyone forgets you.