Title: The Sudden Appearance of Hope
Author: Claire North
Rating: 4/5 stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
As you might know, I have been a huge fan of author Claire North ever since reading the magnificent ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ earlier on this year. I jumped at the chance to review The Sudden Appearance of Hope, which has a kickass premise: a woman who no one can remember, living a life of crime and exacting her own brand of justice. This book delivers on so many fronts: unique plot, an almost uncomfortable lens on the state of social media, and a host of complex female characters. Although at times, I struggled with the slower pacing of the book – it was an ultimately rewarding read.
Hope Arden is a completely isolated individual, living at the fringe of society owing to people’s inability to remember her. Her parents started forgetting about her existence within her teens. People she meets forget her the moment their eyes stray from her face. Naturally, this makes Hope a somewhat prodigious talent at minor crime. Yet, it also leaves her floundering about her purpose and identity in life. She’s a woman who can make a thousand first impressions, but will never have a chance to develop relationships or form personal connections. Instead, she grounds herself by knowing things, by listing facts, by counting – much of the book’s bulk is actually bogged down by her compulsive need to list things.
However, instead of being annoyed at her constant need to rattle off facts and figures – I realised this tendency illustrates part of Hope’s desperation to connect to a world she can never truly be a part of. Hope has no foundation on which she can build her identity – for humans are intrinsically social creatures and our world are shaped by those around us. Hope’s anonymity and condition allow her to act as an excellent foil to the source of the book’s conflict: Perfection.
Perfection is an app which monitors its user’s diet, spending habits, leisure activities and bank account – sound familiar? It’s already hugely successful in Hope’s alternate world, with prominent figures swearing by its ability to change lives. The app tells them what to buy, how they should exercise, spew out self-help quotes and in general dictate the terms their lives. In return, the users can become enhanced, flawless versions of themselves and accumulate more in-app points to spend on a plethora of sponsored products and services – such as gym membership or holidays. The top few users of Perfection are a class of perfect elites: with identical smiles, identical successful lives and identical ideology about life. When the use of Perfection causes one of Hope’s acquaintance to commit suicide, she vows to bring down the company and expose the truth behind the app.
While Perfection may seem like a farfetched and megalomaniac blend of Facebook, Instagram and other similar app – the book made me ponder about the potency of social media as an advertising platform. Through social media, many of us can present to one another the perfect ideals of our lives: whether it be through showcasing our latest holiday or last meal out. Popular social media feeds and figures begin to lead eerily similar lifestyle – filled with green smoothies and tropical getaways. This book challenges the contemporary world’s decision to let social media feeds dictate societal expectations and values. Everyone who uses Perfection becomes a recognisable and successful individual, all at the cost of forsaking their own values, decisions, and identity. What’s worse, to be someone forgettable, or to be another soulless clone?
In parts, Hope’s story made for a laborious read because of her utter solitude. The majority of her plans and machinations are executed alone, and in the absence of meaningful relationships – some of her thoughts become repetitive. I can quickly see why solitary confinement is considered one of the worst form of torture. However, Hope does meet some other astounding female characters along the way – each as complex as she is – although I can’t divulge their identities because spoilers. Trust me, though – the cast of strong ladies in this book will have you clapping your hands in delight.
Another thing that’s a complete delight is how much this book resembles an armchair holiday. As an international jewel thief, we see Hope constantly on the move around the globe. Amongst her destinations are Dubai, Tokyo, and South Korea. In classic Claire North manner, we get an exacting and atmospheric description of each place that Hope visits. While the stakes are high and the atmosphere always dangerous – I loved seeing the accurate and vivid portrayal of non-western locations in this book.
As you can see by the premise, The Sudden Appearance of Hope is above all else, a book on identity. While the terms of humanity is a topic that has been explored time and again, this book takes such a unique and distinctive spin on it. I sort of want to live in Claire North’s brain, as she has time and again floored me with her amazing premise and execution. Each of her book have made me stopped and think about the endless possibilities in the world she proposes – what more can you ask from a fine work of fiction?