Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
Updated: Sep 3, 2018
The premise of Claire North’s novel, is that the titular character, Hope Arden, disappears from everyone’s memory when she moves out of their sight. It began when she was a teenager and even her parents forgot they had a daughter. This makes having a job or any kind of relationship practically impossible, but does make her ideally suited for a life of crime.
One of the other central plot points is that Hope finds out about an app called Perfection, which makes recommendations for you to change you life to its definition of perfect. The user gives it full access to their personal data, including financial transactions, and the app gives the user points when they follow the advice and deducts points when they don’t. When not
being perfect, as defined by the app, contributes to the suicide of a young girl, Reina, Hope realises that the app may have a sinister agenda behind it.
Hope had developed a friendship with Reina who has wealth and beauty. At least it is a friendship from Hope’s point of view. From Reina’s point of view it is a series of new meeting which she forgets about each time. So when she dies it spurs Hope to investigate further and, along with an ambitious plan to steal a diamond, that’s where it all get complicated.
North uses Hope’s interactions and the app Perfection to highlight issues of loneliness, of social interaction and to ask the question what would make our lives perfect?
Hope has access to money and the trappings that it brings, clothes, parties etc, but she is not loved, because she is not remembered. Every time she meets someone, it is, from their point of view, the first time they have met her. It’s a lonely way to live.
The Perfection app sets an unexplained standard that it expects its users to obtain, but it also highlights how far from perfect its users lives are now by requiring radical change. A point underlined by Reina’s suicide. It leads to the question that if we did achieve the wealth, beauty, social life etc that the app directs towards, would that truly make us happy or would those achievements feel as empty as Hope’s life without love.
The novel also raises the question of identity, who is Hope if she is not recognised or remembered? She can not be defined by her relationship to others, friend, daughter, family member, as even the relationships of blood are meaningless if the others do not remember her. She passes through the world like a ghost, the only impact she leaves is where she has taken or moved an object, she leave no memory in those she meets, so can not inspire or influence others. No one will morn or notice if she dies or disappears. She can not hold a job or profession as her employers would forget who she is, so she can not be defined by her achievements in this area. What is left of our identity when all that is taken away? Perhaps a parallel to those isolated, disabled, homeless or unable to work in our own communities, easy to forget.
While Hope does not seek to hurt others physically, she does not worry about breaking laws, stealing from others. North suggests, though Hope, that perhaps morality and respect for laws is a social contract that does not apply if you are not part of that society. It raises the interesting notion that perhaps, if we want people to obey our rules, we first have to integrate
them into our communities rather than excluding those who might be lawless.
The novel received recognition being awarded a World Fantasy Award in 2017, a high accolade in the genre, but is the book actually fantasy? The world Hope interacts with is in essence the modern day world, with a few fictional tweaks. The forgetability of Hope is never explained and could beconsidered magic of sorts. Perhaps you might consider it urban fantasy
from the setting, but it would not, in my opinion, sit well on the shelf next to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or L. K. Hamilton’s vampire novels. Perhaps then it is Magical Realism, a genre or subgenre of literature whose relationship with other genres is widely debated. The novel, perhaps, would sit comfortably next to Cecilia Ahern’s If You Could See Me Now (2005). The central premise of that novel is an invisible friend and it is generally considered mainstream or popular fiction.
The author herself writes under different names depending on the style or genre she is writing in, using her real name, Catherine Webb for her early young adult work. She was 14 when she started writing novels.
She then used the pen name Kate Griffin as she became an adult and changed her target market and to Claire North when her writing style changed again. Perhaps the issues of recognition and identity come closer to home for her than for other authors.
This is not the first time that discussions of genre have surrounded novels winning a World Fantasy Award. In 2016 Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant won an award despite the author’s statement that it was not in fact fantasy. An idea publicly debated by the author with the late Ursula Le Guin across blog posts and Guardian articles. Perhaps Ishiguro
is right in saying that genre boundaries are porous, but I feel that ultimately it is the readers that decide what it is received as, rather than the authors intentions.
To conclude, The Sudden Appearance Of Hope is a novel that perhaps spans genre boundaries, but has been warmly received by fantasy readers. It is a brilliant take on modern society and an individuals place in it, through the use of Fantastical tropes. Perhaps authors like Claire North,Cecilia Ahern, Kazuo Ishiguro and Joanne Harris will continue to blur genre boundaries and maybe readers will find something they love that came from a different part of the bookshop.
If you are interested in buying this book, it can be bought on Amazon via our affiliate link here, which pays us a small commission, but does not cost you any extra.
Review by Karen, first published in the BFS Journal.
If you have read this book or any other novels by Claire North, let us know what you thought in the comments below.