Book Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Claire North (2016)

May 25th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Hope Arden is one character you won’t soon forget.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for suicide, rape, and general violence.)

And at Edinburgh Waverley, I bought a notebook from the stationery shop, and a bag of pens, and as the engine blared its victory over inertia and the train began to crawl south, back to England, back to the warm, back to Derby and my sister who waited, I began to write.
I wrote of the past.

Of the things that had brought me here.

Of being forgotten, and being remembered.

Of diamonds in Dubai, fires in Istanbul. Of walks through Tokyo, the mountains of Korea, the islands of the southern seas. Of America and the greyhound bus, of Filipa and Parker, Gauguin and Byron14.

I wrote, to make my memory true.

The past, living.

Now.

Here, in these words.

I wrote to make myself real.

— 4.5 stars —

When she was sixteen years old, Hope Arden began to disappear – from peoples’ memories.

It started small: teachers would forget to pester Hope for her homework; friends stopped saving her a seat in the cafeteria. One day, she came home only to find her mother clearing out her room, bagging up her belongings to donate to a charity shop; for a second, she forgot that Hope still lived with them.

Eventually people ceased to remember Hope altogether: a minute or two after turning away, she’d slip from their minds like a shadow. Details of their seconds-old interaction with her would linger, but the girl at the center of the memory was nowhere to be found. Hope’s parents held out the longest, but one day even they forget their oldest daughter. You could say that Hope ran away from home that day, but is it still home if you’re a perpetual stranger?

Being unmemorable is more challenging than you might think. Reliable health care, housing, gainful employment, continuing education – all of it was beyond Hope’s reach. And so she did the only thing she could with this new ability-slash-curse: become the best damn thief she could. Like her anonymity, Hope’s career as a criminal started small: shoplifting led to pick pocketing led to elaborate jewel heists that required months of planning. If she wasn’t always a consummate professional, at least she could fall back on her forgettable-ness. The few times she was arrested, all Hope had to do was wait for someone to leave her in a room, alone…and forget all about her.

Maybe what Hope was doing couldn’t be called living, but she was surviving, at least. That is, until Dubai. There to steal the Chrysalis diamond from the Saudi royal family, Hope made friends – of a sort – with her target’s cousin, Reina bint Badr al Mustakfi. After just a few meetings, Reina killed herself. Because she was depressed. Because she needed help. Because what she got instead was Perfection.

Perfection: a life coach in digital form. For a small monthly fee, the app will tell you what to eat, where to shop, when to work out. It gives you points for following its advice – say, granting it access to your bank accounts so that it can better “perfect” your life – and subtracts points when you fail to live up to its standards. The highest rollers are members of the elite 106 Club: all living in the same luxury condo, attending the same swanky parties (where they make business and political deals that earn them – what else – more points!), and getting the same plastic surgery and mind-altering treatments.

But Hope isn’t privy to all these details quite yet. All she knows is that Reina – a lovely, caring, compassionate person – killed herself because she thought she wasn’t good enough. Perfection – and the larger society that birthed it – told her as much.

And so a heist of professional pride becomes one of personal spite, pulling Hope into the world of Prometheus and Perfection, Dr. Filipa Pereyra-Conroy and her brother Rafe, and the terrorist known as Byron14 and her pursuer, mugurski71. Along the way she’ll meet – or rather reacquaint herself with – another forgettable like herself; be kidnapped and nearly burned alive; bring Prometheus to its knees; and witness a literal feeding frenzy of perfect people.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is, for lack of a better word, bonkers. A roller-coaster ride, it has a little bit of just about everything: science fiction, dystopia, horror, suspense, mystery, romance, conspiracy theories, corporate espionage, philosophy, literary fiction. Sometimes it almost feels like a poetry slam, as Hope’s narration slips into a stream-of-consciousness-type jam. (The writing might not be for everyone, but I loved it.)

In less talented hands, Hope’s disappearing act could have easily devolve into a wacky plot device; but North uses it to explore some pretty heavy issues: the nature of self-identity; the malleability of memory; ethics in the absence of consequences; self-esteem and -worth and how these influence (and are influenced by) attention, approval, and relationships. Who is Hope, really, if no one remembers her? If nothing she does is of consequence? If she has no friends, no family, no lovers; no one to remember her? What can you be if you’re only able to live in the Now?

The Sudden Appearance of Hope boasts a dizzying number of subplots and plot twists, even for a nearly 500-page book. It does feel a little long – once or twice, I found myself impatiently checking my progress on the Kindle – but, for the most part, the story managed to hold my attention. Actually, that doesn’t quite do it justice: for most of the read I white-knuckled it, staying up to finish “just one more chapter” until I could barely keep my eyes open.

Also dizzying: the diversity, in the best way possible. This story is seriously international in scope, with our biracial heroine traveling all over the globe: Dubai, Oman, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Milan, Venice, New York City, San Francisco, São Paulo. With her dark skin and dark hair (“twisted into long ropes down my back”), Hope stands out in many of the places she visits: but only for so long. Hope’s mother, of the Nuer people, walked across the desert of Sudan and Egypt, until she reached Istanbul and, eventually, the UK. Hope often conjures Nyaring Ayun-Arden, imagining her journey as her own, finding strength and presence of self in her mum’s trek. She carries something – many things – of her mother’s even if she is no longer remembered as her mother’s daughter. This is among some of the loveliest imagery in the book.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: This story is international in scope, with our titular heroine Hope Arden traveling all over the globe: Dubai, Oman, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Milan, Venice, New York City, San Francisco, São Paulo. As such, a number of the main, secondary, and even unnamed characters are people of color.

Starting with the MC, Hope Arden, who is biracial. Her dad is a white “copper” from England; her mom, Nyaring Ayun-Arden, immigrated to the UK from Sudan. Hope describes her mother’s skin as “dark as burnt mahogany,” with graying hair cropped close to her scalp. Though her family is Neur, Nyaring’s father insisted that they learn Arabic to succeed in life. Hope describes herself as “dark skinned, dark haired, hair twisted into long ropes down my back, a runner’s body,” with “skin almost as dark as my mother’s.”

Matheus Pereyra was born in Montevideo (Uruguay), but he and his mother immigrated to England when he was three. She later remarried and his stepfather was abusive. His children, Rafe Pereyra-Conroy and Dr. Filipa Pereyra-Conroy, went on to become the head of Prometheus and the scientist behind Perfection, respectively.

In Dubai to steal the Chrysalis diamond from the Saudi royal family, Hope makes friends – of a sort – with her target’s cousin, Reina bint Badr al Mustakfi. It’s her suicide that’s responsible for Hope’s involvement with Byron14 and her quest to destroy Perfection.

Hope’s younger sister Gracie contracted measles in nursery school (“off a kid in nursery whose mother thought the MMR jab was poison”); nine months later, they learned that she suffered lasting brain damage. As an adult, she requires assisted living. As animals and those with cognitive impairments are the only ones who can remember Hope, her sister Gracie = her sudden (re)appearance – or part of it, anyway.

Animal-friendly elements: Animals can remember Hope!

 

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