Monday, March 13, 2023

The Sudden Appearance of Hope

Claire North
Completed 3/13/2023, Reviewed 3/13/2023
4 stars

When you read the plot summary of this book, you might think that The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was a rip off of it.  Both are about a girl who no one remembers interacting with.  But while Addie LaRue is kind of a fairy tale-ish romance, this book is a hardcore reflection on what it means to be perfect in a world dominated by social media, toxic capitalism, celebrity, and low self-esteem.  I don’t know if the basic trope started with North, or if it’s found in other books.  Having read these two so closely together, it's easy to draw comparisons and contrasts between the two.  North’s book won the 2017 World Fantasy Award.  Addie LaRue was published a few years later.

At the age of 16, Hope Arden’s family starts forgetting that she is their daughter.  At school, she is introduced as a new student every day.  Her friends don’t remember her.  Only her developmentally challenged sister remembers her.  She eventually leaves home and becomes a thief to survive.  She finds herself in Dubai going after a priceless diamond necklace.  She steals it, but it was during a party for ultra-wealthy people who are using an app called Perfection.  This app tells them what choices and changes to make to make themselves perfect.  Soon she is in the target of a hunt to find the thief.  The problem is no one remembers her.  Still, she becomes embroiled in the dirty world of the ultra-rich and a plot to destroy the company that makes Perfection.

While this book won the WFA, I would consider it a little more science fiction and a little less fantasy.  It might fall under the subgenres of cyberpunk and human development.  A lot of the chase happens online and the key to perfection is undergoing treatments for behavior modification.  Regardless of the category, I found it a terrifically written thriller.  I particularly liked the stream of conscious thinking and google search results that give Hope’s life some definition and meaning.  It makes for a much grittier feel than Addie LaRue.

Hope is the narrator of the story.  She tells it in first person, bouncing back and forth between how this condition began and evolved while telling the main story beginning with the theft of the necklace in Dubai.  Despite the mixing of the timelines, it was easy to follow.  I think that goes back to North’s excellent writing.  Hope is not necessarily a character you can empathize with.  She certainly doesn’t evoke pathos.  It’s also clear that she is not a reliable narrator.  Nonetheless, I found myself on her side through the existential crisis this predicament arouses in her and the actions she pursues as a result of her decisions.  

The toughest part of this book is reading about so many self-absorbed people becoming more self-absorbed.  It reflects the world we find ourselves in already, with tailored ads, self-help and self-actualization programs, and all the other deplorableness that comes with being obsessively online.  While the book is set in upper stratosphere of society, it still trickles down to the common folk.  And it’s hard to admit that I can be as caught up in the mania as anyone else.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It ranks up there with the last book of North’s that I read, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.  While the style is different, the writing is equally terrific and the plot commands some hard reflection on morality.  The book is really dark, even the earworm of The Macarena is darkly humorous.  It was nice to read this while off from work because I was able to really dig my teeth into it.  I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I read it in small bits.  North’s writing evokes an immediacy and tenseness that keeps you pulled into the book.  I’ll definitely keep reading North as more works of hers come out.  

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