Book Review · Books · Picking Stitches

[Picking Stitches – Book Review] The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Another of the books on my Summer Reading List, The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the newest novel from Claire North and the third I’ve read and reviewed. Before this came The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch. So what did I think of this last offering?

Spoilers inside!

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Summary / Blurb

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

First impressions– my life is about making a good first impression. When one attempt fails, I will go away, and reinvent myself, and return to try again. Though first impressions may be the only thing I have, at least I get to practise until they’re right.

A quick overview:

Hope Arden is a young woman who gets forgotten by everyone. She naturally uses this gift to become a first-class jewel thief, as I imagine holding down a respectable job is difficult when no-one remembers hiring you. Also with no lasting memorable consequences to any of her actions, she’s pretty much an untouchable lone wolf.

Until the death of woman that she has frequently befriended (a necessity, when one’s friends forget you exist) who is involved with a rather pervasive new App called Perfection. Terrifyingly easy to imagine a reality, Perfection is like MyFitnessPal, Facebook and FitBit had a baby that has constant access to your location, bank statements and activities. You ‘climb the ladder towards perfection’ by using this or that product or service, rewarded by points, whilst also becoming a more perfect you. You also get cool little passive-aggressive guilt-inducing mean-girls reminders when you do something considered ‘counterproductive’.

Hope, who is not particularly fond of an App CEO setting the standard of perfect and turning everyone who uses it into mindless robot copies of each other, erasing every quirk that makes them unique individuals, makes it her mission to take down the company. She finds help in a mysterious friend she meets in the shadows of the internet, where together they plot her biggest job – the theft of Perfection‘s core code to destroy it from the inside.

“Who are you?”
“I’m Hope’s friend,” I answered. “I was just staying the night.”
Silence
My mum, frozen in the kitchen door, broken egg shell oozing clear juice between her fingers.
“Who’s Hope?”
“Goodbye,” I said, and let myself out into the morning.

The Good:

  • The premise. Claire north always has the most interesting ideas for her stories (living your life over and over again, anyone?) and this is no exception. The concept of everyone forgetting Hope is magical, lonely, sad and interesting all at once. I’m glad we don’t ever really touch on mechanics of why Hope is the way she is, though I would really have liked more just about the gift.
  • The sense of isolation. Due to excellent writing, partway through the book I just craved for someone to remember Hope, to have a moment or something. I imagine this is how Hope is supposed to feel too…
  • It’s commentary on society’s quest for perfection. I’m glad that Hope – and North – pits herself against the company who thinks they can decide what perfect is for everyone.
  • The writing. North’s language is consistently deep and thoughtful, her sentences are, on their own, beautiful, however…

The Bad:

  • …On the flip side, the flowery and beautiful language is also in the bad section, how controversial! Look, the sentences North creates are lovely and poetic, but they verge on too much. The stretched prose buried the plot in prolonged descriptions of all the locations and I found myself skim reading some of it to find the “meat” of the story in the extra fluff.
  • Having to look for the story, in the fluff. Not gonna lie, I struggled a bit with the story in this novel. It’s there, but faint, really. For the size of the book, I felt like not enough happened. There was a nefarious plot and a takedown, naturally, but mostly the book consisted of Hope going from evocative, beautiful place to place and being forgotten. I felt like there was far too much dead space in between the plotty bits.
  • For the interesting premise of the plot, not a lot of the actual story had much to do with Hope’s ‘gift’. It’s just there. I would have liked a story about Hope’s gift, and while the book is just always having people forget her, there’s not much more than that. I guess I wanted to delve into the world of people-who-get-forgotten. It would have been nice to have more of that guy with the same affliction (I forget his name – see, more of him was needed!) interacting with Hope.

 

Favourite Part:

I really liked Hope’s relationship with Byron. That whole interaction was the closest Hope got to having someone know her. I just wish their story had ended better.

Favourite Quote:

I like Hope discussing her gift. She’s so matter of fact about it you can almost believe this is someone living with a condition like this.

Things that are difficult when the world forgets you:
-Dating
-Getting a job
-Receiving consistent medical attention
-Getting a loan
-Certified education
-Getting a reference
-Getting service at a restaurant

Things that are easy when the world forgets you:
-Assassination
-Theft
-Espionage
-Casual cruelty
-Angst-free one-night stands (w/condoms)
-Not tipping

Out of Ten: 
Five. Is that a bad score? It feels like a bad score, and I feel guilty. Oh well. Honesty!

Overall Thoughts:

I feel bad for scoring this book so low (for me) but even though I did read it through and enjoyed it on a basic level (I like to read, anything that is remotely interesting and doesn’t offend me, I’ll finish and enjoy) on thinking back to write this review, there were many things that I wasn’t a big fan of. As always, North’s writing was beautiful, but unfortunately in this case I felt a little like it swamped the novel. Looking for plot was sometimes like finding a toy in a cereal box, and while I’m a fan of flowery prose – there’s such a thing as too much. I don’t know if this contributes to my next gripe, but it also didn’t seem like much was happening – which can’t be right, because there’s a whole plot going on, but still. The pacing felt slow, and Hope’s constant repetitions and regurgitation of fact were distracting.

I guess I just felt disconnected from Hope, being at arm’s length throughout the book. That might be a clever writing choice, but it just wasn’t for me, because ultimately I didn’t find myself liking her  and I wasn’t overly invested, so I got a little bored.

I did greatly enjoy the not-so-subtle commentary on the current state of obsession with social media and the pressures of changing yourself and your appearance to fit in with the idealised, media driven standard. ‘Perfect‘ is thrown around a lot in this novel, with the app developer setting that label to mean people that look like supermodels, earning lots of money and marrying someone equally as attractive and successful. The whole ‘perfect people’ club felt a little Stepford Wives to me, and I think that was intentional. The message – I thought – was quite blatant throughout: change yourself, your image, your hobbies and your job to fit what we as a society see as ‘perfect’ and you may end up a boring robot, erasing every part of you that makes you you. 

Even though there were parts of this book that didn’t light my fire – I think that message is top notch.

Hayley Margaret

 

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