Hope Arden is easily forgettable - turn your back on her for a few minutes, and you'll not remember ever having seen . Her condition first appeared during her teenage years; her teachers forgot why she was in their class, her friends no longer recognised her and even her parents began to wonder who she was. Finding 'normal' life impossible, Hope left home and began living off her wits, but when no one can remember you from day to day there are obvious problems. It's impossible to hold down a job, get anything more than quick, basic medical attention, or even have friends or a steady relationship. Fortunately, it has one major advantage - that Hope is very good at stealing things. From helping herself to the basics of food and clothing, to the meticulously planned 'lifting' of expensive jewellery, this has become her way of life.
In Dubai, looking to steal a famous diamond necklace, Hope makes the acquaintance of Reina, a young woman torn between her interest in women's rights and social issues, and the demands of a new phone app, which encourages its users to strive for 'Perfection'. When this conflict leads to Reina's suicide, Hope feels driven to investigate and perhaps expose the app, and its backers, as something potentially dangerous.
It's one thing to invent a character with a 'quirk' but more than that is needed to make an entertaining story - and THAT is Claire North's speciality, as demonstrated in her previous novels, Touch (in which a 'spirit' could pass from one host body to another) and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, (a person living their life time after time). Again, with The Sudden Appearance of Hope, North has chosen a lead character, to all appearances as normal as the next person, but with an extraordinary ability, and put them in the middle of a fast-paced thriller-style read. Looking for a way to destroy the company behind 'Perfection', Hope finds herself travelling round the world, frequently in danger, putting her trust in people that certainly don't have her interests at heart, and finding that the uses of 'Perfection' could be more dangerous than she's imagined.
It would be too easy, I feel, to dream up a condition such as Hope's and focus on only the good side of it, but it's obvious that the author has thought through the negatives as well - especially the social and emotional side. Even when surrounded by people, Hope's is a very lonely existence; she can hardly make friends when they'd forget her after a few minutes, and her love-life, such as it is, is reduced to a series of one-night stands.
Something I particularly liked with this story was the 'social commentary' side - highlighting the modern obsession with looking good, wearing the 'right' clothes, being seen in the 'right' places. The 'Perfection' app takes celebrity/lifestyle/diet magazines one step forward, with a cynical
manipulation of people's insecurities and the desire to emulate the rich and famous. The app advises (or dictates) what to eat, how much exercise to take, which clothes to buy, where to be seen. It's a constant reminder of how you measure up, or drop behind, on your search for that perfect image, rewarding 'good' behaviour with bonuses, privileges, and medical procedures to take you nearer to your goal, and penalising if you don't follow the rules. It feels like something that's only a technological step or two away ...
For a while I thought I knew where the story was leading and how it would end, so I was pleased that an extra twist or two meant it didn't pan out the way I expected. I'm not quite sure whether to label this 'sci-fi' or not - most of it doesn't seem that far-fetched; it's only Hope's strange affliction that seems out of the ordinary.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - OrbitGenre - Sci-fi, thriller, adult fiction