Characters named Hope
On August 1, 2016 I tweeted: "I get pretty annoyed with female literary characters named Hope." I’m behind on updating this blog so despite it being September now, I am pretty sure that tweet was in reference to this book. And I stand by it: I think the same character with a less obvious metaphor for a name certainly would not diminish how great The Sudden Appearance of Hope is.
Hope Arden is an extraordinary woman, and I mean this in the most literal sense. Because Hope is forgettable. And not in the-wallflower-at-the-dance kind of way. People literally forget having met Hope as soon as they can no longer see her. The book (thankfully) doesn’t get too far into the genetic makeup which makes this possible because, well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she is forgettable, and this has affected her life in profound ways.
Just take a second and think about what that would mean in your life - if every single person you ever met forgot about that meeting as soon as you were out of their eyesight (I think there’s like a minute of actual forgetting). Think of all the ways our memories affect our lifetime of experiences. This means you could meet a person 20 times in the same day and each time it would be a new experience for them. It means you could never be accountable for your actions. It also means you can’t get a job because the person who interviewed you will not remember having met you. You could never maintain a lease on an apartment when a landlord wouldn’t remember you signing a lease. The lease is there. The signature is there. But there would be no memory of you existing; and, what is a signature if there is no memory of a person to go with it? It means you can never be married or form long-term relationships. Even Hope’s parents have forgotten her existence. The premise alone is incredible and while from a book jacket it just seems like a hackneyed plot device, as you explore the depths of what this means in Hope’s life, you realize that it might about the most innovative idea you’ve seen in literature in a while.*
When put all together, it seems inevitable that Hope has become a thief, a con-artist. And here, Ms. North strides through a very grey moral area. Because, of course, we are told stealing is bad but when the universe has taken from you everything necessary to lead a normal life, what choice do you have but to lead an abnormal one?
Hope gets in a bit over her head by stealing from the makers of Perfection. Again, this could be sooooo hackneyed but instead, it’s really smart. Perfection is an app that you can download for your phone which helps you become the best you. Basically, you get points for doing things that are going to make you a better person (go to the gym, buy designer clothes, attend an event with the social elite, etc) and then when you get enough points, you get to become a member of exclusive clubs and win prizes like plastic surgery. Yes, it involves data mining and advertiser product placement and revolves around one idea of perfection and because of all these things and more its an incredibly smart and terrifying conceit.
And so we get swept up in her adventure. The jewel thief story is engaging and exciting, and the constant threat of danger really keeps the reader on their toes. There are some terrifying and violent moments, great chase sequences, a lot of subterfuge - it’d be quick to say its an action/adventure story except it’s actually a coming of age tale. The protagonist - our better character - is multi-dimensional and conflicted. Which I suppose comes from being both a thief and a moralist. Hope is engulfed with a loneliness that every reader will understand on some level, though perhaps never so isolated as someone who can’t be remembered. But the metaphor and the experience speak to the human condition at large.
I will say this book is heavy, both in metaphor and social awareness. There are certainly some eye-rolling moments (I mean, her name is Hope) and it’s too long - some editing could have helped the pacing and I personally felt once the ideas were in place, they did not need as much reinforcement as they were given. However, for every place this book falters, it excels in three more. For every eye-roll, there’s a punch in the gut that makes you look at the things we put ourselves through to reach a standard we didn’t choose but rather was imposed upon us. It should be noted, Hope is described as having ebony skin, to which I can only say “Huzzah!” And most of the events of the book take place in the Middle East and how much more interesting are these facts when it is declared that the algorithm the Perfection program is working off of is based on George Clooney and Angelina Jolie? And then how much more when we think about how, yes, indeed, we do seem to idolize those two above even other celebrities? This book is full of moment after moment of a struggle to understand identity in a society that pressures us into conformity.
Fiction, Science Fiction
Post script: It has been brought to my attention (by the internet) that this book is a YA novel. I would never have made that assumption upon reading it, though it does perhaps explain some of the lack of subtlety. Also…it gets intense. Darkly intense. Subliminal brainwashing to create assassins intense. But the idea of a young woman reading this book, reaching the end and thinking just a little bit more that she does not need to fit into a mold…well that’s a win every time!
*If this is actually a borrowed plot idea, then my apologies for not knowing - I have never read such a novel.