THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE of HOPE
Now you see her…
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.