Now you see her…

SFX - - Reviews -

Glo­be­trot­ting jewel thieves are never not cool. (We mean fic­tional ones, ob­vi­ously, for the ben­e­fit of any po­lice read­ing this.) A well-planned heist is al­ways fun; a well-planned heist in a glam­orous lo­ca­tion at the ex­pense of the ob­nox­iously over-priv­i­leged is even bet­ter. And as she steals the di­a­monds of well-heeled gits from Mi­lan to Dubai, Hope Ar­den has a se­cret weapon in her larce­nous ar­se­nal. Within min­utes of en­coun­ter­ing her, peo­ple – vic­tims, po­lice, lovers, even fam­ily – for­get her ex­is­tence. Quite lit­er­ally, once out of sight, she’s out of mind.

But this power isn’t some­thing Hope can turn on and off, and Claire North mines the im­pli­ca­tions of it very ef­fec­tively, for both drama and char­ac­ter study. Doomed to meet peo­ple, over and over again, for the first time – doomed to friend­ships that last only as long as the other party is in earshot, and awake – Hope trav­els the world in suf­fo­cat­ing iso­la­tion (and gets ter­ri­ble ser­vice in restau­rants, to boot). Hope’s strug­gles to un­der­stand who she is if no one sees her, and the way her iso­la­tion lets her ig­nore the ef­fects of her ac­tions, are set against the back­drop of a wildly pop­u­lar new app, Per­fec­tion, which prom­ises not just self-im­prove­ment, but self-per­fec­tion. Ex­ploit­ing elite van­ity and wannabe-elite as­pi­ra­tions alike, Per­fec­tion shep­herds its users to­wards an al­go­rith­mic ideal of phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, outlook and life­style, what­ever the cost.

The sci­ence be­hind Per­fec­tion is de­vised to help peo­ple over­come so­cial awk­ward­ness, and there are shades of Ken Ma­cLeod’s In­tru­sion in North’s ex­plo­ration of a well-meant idea go­ing dras­ti­cally wrong. As a cri­tique of global cap­i­tal­ism, this is pointed with­out be­ing preachy, and there are no shin­ing he­roes or scenery-chew­ing vil­lains, only well-rounded char­ac­ters in­hab­it­ing the moral mar­gins, on all sides. Nic Clarke

Like her hero­ine, Claire North has sev­eral names: she’s a pseu­do­nym for Cather­ine Webb, who also writes YA as Kate Grif­fin.

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