I haven’t exactly been quiet about how much I adored The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (I even got two relatives and a close friend of mine to read it just so I’d have more people to talk to about it). So when I realized I’d missed the release of Claire North’s next book, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I quickly bought a copy to rectify my mistake. A lot of what I loved about Harry August is still there along with a compelling new protagonist and set of circumstances, however it has a more pessimistic feel to it that I wasn’t expecting—but it does make sense given the contemporary setting and the themes to which the novel speaks.
While most teens feel at some point or another that the people in their lives are disregarding and forgetting them, for Hope Arden that was actually true. The people in her life could not remember her or her interactions with them once she walked away until her parents forgot her existence entirely and she was effectively on her own. Given the difficulties of holding a job when employers and coworkers couldn’t remember her from one day to the next, Hope became a practiced and effective thief, tangling and escaping the authorities using her unique condition to her advantage. But when she steals jewels from the neck of a Saudi princess at a high profile function, more than just Interpol is after her and technology remembers her. She nearly falls into a trap while trying to sell the jewels but a fellow darknet user, Byron14, reaches out to warn her and later enlists her for a job against an international self-improvement company—a job that has far reaching consequences for Hope and the world that forgets her.
Self-identity is a cornerstone for the character of Hope and for the novel as a whole. The dangerous and exclusionary pressures of pursuing self-perfection as defined by society are thoroughly explored in conjunction with modern technology. Issues of race, gender, economic class, etc. are heavily present given the main character’s position as a mixed-race woman whose forgetability would relegate her to being the poorest of the poor if it weren’t for her thieving talents. Her position as someone everyone immediately forgets—while she, of course, remembers—also give her unique insights into humanity itself and morality. Since no one remembers her interactions with them, does it matter what she does to them? Though she doesn’t have much inclination to explore the darker possibilities associated with that, there are those who—once aware of her condition and prepared with a battery of means to assist them in studying her—might be so inclined.
Hope, of course, is driven in part by the need to be remembered. Her relations with certain law enforcement officials reflect this need; not so much for attention, exactly, but for a lasting relationship in whatever form can be managed. Her shifting loyalties concerning the company Prometheus and their Perfection technology is colored by the scientific possibilities that might make her memorable for the first time since her childhood.
When the novel and its characters begin exploring some of these themes in the abstract, it can become difficult to follow and since it’s limited to Hope’s perspective, there are a lot of ambiguities. This both underscores the themes and makes it more difficult to fully comprehend and engage with them. It’s the kind of novel I would have loved to read in college where I could discuss it at length in a classroom setting because I know there is a lot about it that I’m probably overlooking.
Still, even if it’s difficult to understand all of what the book explores, it is infinitely quotable and thought provoking, especially concerning major issues at play in the modern world.