I first came across Claire North in her earlier incarnation as Kate Griffin, creator of blue-angel-possessed magician Matthew Swift. The series quickly became one of my favourites. I’d never read anything like it before as I don’t really go in for urban fantasy so much, (because of all the kissing … and the manly-yet-sensitive werewolves/vampires that sparkle in the sunlight and wear revealingly tight black tee-shirts – snooze), and Griffin has kind of spoilt me for most other urban fantasy now.
After reading the Matthew Swift books, and then the associated Magicals Anonymous books and the books Griffin wrote under her first pseudonym, Catherine Webb, I got distracted by something shiny and forgot about her for a while. In the meantime, I was attracted to a book called The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August while going through the new books trolley one day, and started to read it. Halfway through I found a promotional postcard for the book with a quote written on one side and out of curiosity I googled the author, and discovered that Claire North was Kate Griffin in disguise –The serendipitous forces of the universe strike again! Woo!
So, The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the third book North has written under this new name (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was followed by Touch), and was one of the last books on my soon-may-not-have-my-unlimited-renewal-library-powers-so-read-it-quick pile, (it’s since become my sheesh-have-you-still-got-this?? pile). Like the previous two novels, it is a different kettle of fish from the full-on urban fantasy of Matthew Swift’s world (hence the pen-name change), dealing instead with a kind of real-world-with-a-twist story of a girl, Hope, who is so easily forgotten she has dropped out of her own official life, and leads an odd, lonely existence as a jewel thief. When a ‘friend’ (as far as you can have a friend when no one remembers you from one interaction to the next), commits suicide, Hope makes a crusade of destroying an interfering app called Perfection that she discovers on her dead friend’s phone.
North’s writing style in these newer books is appropriate to the lonely characters telling their stories – a man who lives his life over and over again in, aware of his previous lives in Harry August; a being who can pass from one body to the next simply by touching someone’s skin in Touch; and a girl who has been forgotten – it is impressionistic and occasionally disjointed and quietly beautiful. She is a joy to read … but I do have to be in the mood for her. There was, for me, a lack of pace to The Sudden Appearance, which was perhaps only because I was feeling the pressure of trying to get through a pile of books as I was reading it, but had me feeling a little impatient at times.
Not that there isn’t some great, suspenseful scenes in here – my favourite being when Hope escapes from her kidnapper by hitting him over the back of the head and hiding in a cupboard until he and his team have forgotten her, only to get locked in when the kidnappers torch the building. And Hope is an international jewel thief, so there’s a lot of travelling to exotic locations and usual thriller-ish stuff. I may not have felt fully engaged with Hope and her plight, but I kind of feel that’s not the point. It’s like North is writing a thought experiment – she explores what it would mean to be completely forgettable, how a person would live, how they’d get medical attention when they needed it, what relationships would be like for them, what it might do to their sense of self. This is kind of how I felt about North’s previous two books too. They’re good stories, well-told, full of interesting details, but primarily they’re explorations. What if a person lived the same life over and over, but remembered doing so? What if someone had no permanent physical form, but could flit from host to host at a touch? I am in awe of Webb/Griffin/North’s writing and imagination, and my low-key grumbling about any lack of pace is really just because a part of me is always comparing them back to the Matthew Swift books I first discovered, which moved at a cracking pace and barely left me chance to breathe; and that’s a fault in me as a reader. I would still recommend the North books to everyone (and have done). I will still watch for whatever she does next (in whatever guise). She is still on my list of super awesome writers. I just think that these ones are one-time reads for me, not return trips.