The Sudden Appearance of Hope | Claire North | 2016, Pb 2017 | Orbit | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book
Who is Hope Arden? That’s impossible to answer. You could share a laugh with her, a meal, spend a day, even a night with her and then if you turned your head away for just a minute you would still remember the time but you would remember it as time spent alone – Hope cannot be remembered. As a child, Hope was remembered by her parents, friends and teachers but, slowly, as time went by in her teenage years, they began to forget until finally Hope’s beloved mother, a remarkable woman who once crossed a desert on foot, became the last to forget Hope Arden.
Only existing in the moment presents all kinds of difficulties for a young person, for a person of any age – how do you get a reference? How can a surgeon operate on you when just a toilet break would mean that they would never return to the table? Finding somewhere to live, making friends, falling in love – these things all become impossible, yet longed for. Every day is filled with constant saddening reminders of one’s failure to be remembered. You can leave a trail of notes and photos, clues to your existence, but starting from scratch again and again is no way to live. Unless you become a thief, of course. A forgettable face can commit the perfect crime.
In The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Claire North once again creates an unusual, original leading character, someone who exists in the familiar world but perceives it entirely differently through their remarkable gift or curse. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August depicted a character who time and time again relived his life, while in Touch we had someone who could transfer their life into the body of another with just a brush of skin against skin. And now we have Hope who, thanks to being infinitely forgotten, can suddenly appear and reappear in somebody’s life for the very first time.
There is another element to the novel, though. It’s not just about a thief who cannot be remembered, it is also about Perfection, an app that can take over a life, given access to every area of that life, including bank accounts, and awards points for every decision, behaviour and purchase that moves that person closer towards Perfection. Becoming Perfect – beautiful, wealthy, calm – opens up whole new areas of privilege, but at what cost? When someone that Hope cared for as a friend kills herself for not being able to achieve perfection, Hope discovers a direction and purpose for her criminal acts. She might not say as much (Hope is not one to tell us too much about her crimes) but, as the novel proceeds, we become well tuned to reading between the lines with Hope Arden.
We experience most of the novel through Hope’s eyes. She’s used to hiding much of what she thinks – the hurt at being forgotten by her parents isn’t easy to recover from. And we experience her coping mechanisms – the drive to define everything, to count everything. For most of the novel this works very well but I did find this becoming a little much during the final quarter as everything reaches its climax. It’s almost a stream of consciousness in some places and for the first time I found the book overlong. Nevertheless, for the most part, this narrative technique works well as we are utterly absorbed within the pain and challenge of being Hope Arden.
We’re given little time to get to know other characters in the novel but there are one or two that Hope becomes fascinated by, almost teasing to get some kind of lasting reaction, wanting to be remembered. There are other characters who are even as enigmatic as Hope herself. There is a strong mystery element to The Sudden Appearance of Hope and for much of the time Hope is as much in the dark as we are.
My favourite element of the book, though, is the world associated with Perfection. This ultimate app exerts an enormous power with such a force for corruption and I thought its depiction by Claire North to be every bit as original and fascinating as the creation of Hope. It could easily have been the subject of a novel on its own.
Hope is not an easy character to warm to. It’s hardly surprising. This is a woman who doesn’t experience the world as we do and yet how it makes her suffer. This is a deeply intriguing, clever novel, as I’ve come to expect from such an intriguing and clever author. When I hear of a new novel by Claire North I instantly want to read it. I know that I’ll be given something unusual, original, thought-provoking and memorable. I’ll remember Hope.