The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North
Synopsis: A woman that no one can remember once they stop paying attention to her discovers a conspiracy to control the minds of society’s more influential people.
Book Review: We picked this book based on the strength of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, also written by Claire North, and my favorite book of last year. It’s fascinating reading multiple unrealted novels by the same author, you can often quickly pick up the themes and worries that trouble the author. For North, based on these two books, I would venture that lonliness/isolation and purposelessness are foundational experiences she keeps returning to, and that really resonates with me, so of course I love works that explore this. :)
Harry August focused a bit more on purposelessness, I think, since having everything you accomplished wiped out every time you cycle is a pure, distilled concentration of nothing mattering. And he wasn’t completely alone, because he had a society of others who remember and befriend him. Hope focuses more on the isolation, because if no one remembers you once their attention is diverted (and everyone has to sleep) you will never have any friends or loved ones in your life. A perpetual stranger, an outsider to every group. The amount of self-reliance Hope has to develop just to continue living is astounding, and watching that is interesting in itself. But the truely fascinating thing about this book is watching how this destroys her mentally/emotionally, and how she keeps finding ways to shore her psyche up and continue on, regardless. It is an intense emotional charge every time she crumbles and/or breaks, and you feel so fucking hurt as she scrambles to keep the threads of herself from fully dissintegrating.
There are some benefits to being completely immemorable, which any rationalist reader is probably already munchinking in their heads. Hope has done the same munchinking, and she exploits these advanatages in order to live. It’s damned cool to watch, and it’s particularly exciting when people start to suspect something weird is happening and begin developing countermeassures. Because even though she personally is a blackhole in memory, her effects can still be seen. Catching the attention of an increadibly wealthy conspiracy group that has strong motivation to find out what the hell is messing with their schemes gives the novel a worthy opponent.
In addition to the isolation and purposelessness themes, there is also a lot of attention given to what it means to fit into a group, to get others’ approval, and to internalize unrealistic and downright harmful expectations. And, much like in Harry August, there’s a very interesting friend-foe dynamic, where the people who most strongly oppose you also become those who learn who you are most deeply, and thus grow to respect/admire you even as they fight against you (a very Ender’s Game sort of situation). Honestly, there’s so much cool stuff in here, and such great writing, that it’s hard for me to not recommend it. But….
But the book goes on way too long. What appears to be the climax happens when we’re still 100+ pages from the end. First there’s an extended section where Hope slowly recovers from her injuries and contemplates her lot in life, without showing us anything new or exciting. After that there is a very long travelouge,with an almost dreamlike quality to it. It’s… not bad. It just doesn’t do anything. It feels very much like North wasn’t sure how to end the book, or else didn’t want to leave this world just yet, and so she extended it past where it should have finished. To be fair, it’s not a flaw so glaring that it should sink the whole book. But due to the stupid peak/end phenomenon, with this section being at the end of the story it sticks out in the memory and makes my overall impression seem lower than it objectively should be.
Honestly, there was so much that was so good in the first 3/4ths of the book, that I can’t NOT recommend it. I think it would be a far better book if the last section was greatly abridged, though, and maybe new readers would be advised to read the first paragraph of Chapter 96, then jump to 104? I dunno, it feels like hackery to just go sawing out sections of someone else’s child like this. I wouldn’t advise it to 2-weeks-ago me, but I also would look-of-disapproval at any reviewer who said large parts of the end could be skipped, but then didn’t say which part to skip. At any rate, while this isn’t as devestatingly amazing as Harry August, it’s still quite good. Recommended.
Book Club Review: Another good book for book clubs. There is a lot to talk about here, North really dives into a number of themes, some of them timeless and personal, some of them very relevant to the modern world and our reliance on technology and social fragmentation. A group can talk for a long time about these things, depending on where the interests of its individual members lie. The strength of the writing, becoming downright poetic in areas, also makes it a joy to discuss. And it was nice to get a sanity check of half a dozen other people also saying “Yeah, it’s not just you, that extended ending really was an issue.” :) Again, Recommended.
Have you read Memoirs of an Invisible Man> by HF Saint? It’s a cat-and-mouse game of man who unexpectedly finds himself turned invisible vs. government authorities who want him captured. It’s a delightfully thorough exploration of invisibility that really digs into the implications and exploits. But it is also a product of the 80’s, both in the writing style (it feature two relatively explicit sex scenes that seem like they were stuck in because that’s what sci fi was supposed to have rather than any narrative purpose), and in terms of plot. So many of the main character’s problems would be solved so trivially in the Internet age that I’d like to see a more recent take. Still, recommended for a fun read if not a super philosophical one!
I really enjoyed “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” after your recommendation, I’m definitely giving this one a read.