Audiobook Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hachette Audio (May 17, 2016)
Length: 16 hrs and 36 mins
Narrator: Gillian Burke
Claire North’s books tend to be very hard to categorize, and describing them always makes me feel like I’m talking myself through some fascinating thought experiment. Last year, I discovered the author when I picked up her novel Touch, a thriller about an immortal character whose consciousness could jump from body to body, choosing to be anyone they want, live any life they want, for however long they want—and their hosts won’t remember a thing. I ended up loving my first taste of North’s work, so this time, I decided to try her new book in audio for my next mind-trip: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, a story about a young woman who can’t be remembered.
Imagine not being able to remain in anyone’s memory long enough for them to look back after walking out of view, or even just briefly after breaking line of sight. You can meet someone for the first time multiple times, or have the same conversations with them over and over again because they can never remember. Trying to get service in a store or in a restaurant would be a major pain in the ass, and visits to the hospital can be at best a frustrating situation (nurse forgets that you were put in a waiting room), or at worst a life or death predicament (surgeon steps away to use the toilet while you’re on the operating table). You’ll live a mostly solitary existence, unable to form lasting relationships. Share a meal with someone, and all they’ll remember afterwards is eating alone. Even your parents will end up forgetting you. It’s a tricky, tragic, lonely life.
But on the other hand, if no one will ever remember you, what’s to stop you from doing anything you want? You can have a bad day and vent your spleen at an incompetent clerk, leave and it’ll be like your outburst never happened. Punch someone in the face then run away, and no one will be the wiser. Or you can rob a jewelry store, snatch someone’s wallet right out of their hands, and before anyone can even call the police, you’ll be lost in the crowd and everyone would have forgotten you were even there.
That’s the life of Hope Arden, who started fading from everyone’s memory when she was just sixteen years old. Since a proper job, a proper life, a proper anything is out of the question, she has decided to partake in all the criminal activities best suited for someone with her strange condition. Being an international jewel thief helps pay the bills, and it also gives her the satisfaction of stealing from the hoity-toity rich.
But then, going against all her own rules, Hope lets it get personal. A woman commits suicide in a posh hotel in Dubai, the site of our protagonist’s latest heist. At the heart of it is something called Perfection, a lifestyle app that gains access to all your schedules and bank accounts, monitoring everything you are and everything you do. It will make suggestions—what to eat, what to wear, who to date, where to vacation, etc.—and reward you with points when you do what it says, all to nudge you towards becoming a “better” and more “perfect” person. Just the idea of the app repulses Hope, but in it she does find a new target for her anger and a new cause to fight for.
I was really blown away by how North was able to construct this entire multi-layered narrative around just one remarkable, singular idea: What if no one can remember you? At one point, Hope even meets someone with the exact same kind of condition, which was certainly an interesting few chapters. If you had described that situation to me before I read this, I would have said it would make an excellent short story. But 500-page book? How can you write about an idea like that and expand it so you don’t wear out the novelty?
Well, Claire North showed me how it can be done, and not only that, she made it suspenseful, absorbing, and highly emotional. As human beings, we all seem to be obsessed with the idea of “leaving a legacy”. There’s this natural desire to be remembered, if not for ourselves then for our actions. For someone whose ability to make an impression is stripped away, that can be psychologically devastating, and in Hope we see the full range of those effects. What’s the value of personhood, after all, if no one can remember you long enough to appreciate it? Perhaps that is why Perfection is so abhorrent to Hope, because it makes an individual erase themselves little by little, when they already have something Hope will never experience.
And speaking of emotional, the narration on this audiobook is absolutely fantastic. Gillian Burke allows for every single feeling to come across in her voice, from giddiness to melancholy, fury to terror. Hope’s story takes us on all these ups and downs and Burke manages to capture all those moments in her reading. When I researched her narrator profile, she describes herself as having a mixed ancestry, coming from “nowhere and everywhere”, thus giving her a natural talent for different accents. It definitely shows in her narration for this book, which takes us all over the world to meet characters from cities like Dubai, London, Hong Kong, Paris, Venice, Seoul, Cairo, Edinburgh, Tokyo, and more.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope ended up being everything I expected from a novel by Claire North: original, entertaining, and hard-hitting. Her stories are always so different, which may or may not work depending on the kind of reader you are. I never know whether her books will run hot or cold for me, so it was nice to dive into this audiobook and come out on the other side with a very positive experience. I enjoyed this one a lot!
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