Completely inverting the usual pattern, my reading seems to have slowed up for the summer. Two tales down in July, and this was they.
Planetfall, Emma Newman – In short, a group of colonists once travelled into deep space to find God, uncovered a strange organic city that may have been His home, and settled at its base. Many years later secrets learned at planetfall but withheld from the majority come back to haunt those who have committed dark deeds. There’s a tremendous amount in play here, from the long term effects of guilt and trauma to bigger questions about the nature of all things, and they’re explored to varying levels of success. Crucially though, none of the thematic strands are allowed to reach a conclusion – they simply end without real resolution, having been artificially withheld for far too long to remain a source of intrigue. This is a shame, because the book is urgently written and unafraid to ask big questions. Alas, it doesn’t quite have the nerve to hypothesise any answers or unravel its own mystery with any control. For all that it’s a compelling journey, the lack of destination and the unanswered questions about the fates of most of those who have featured in the story leave the conclusion empty and meaningless.
The Sudden Appearance Of Hope, Claire North – Hope, in this case, is a woman who cannot be remembered. Spend more than a few moments looking away from her and you will forget that she was there at all. This makes it necessary for her to compensate in all sorts of ways that make her a particularly fascinating narrator. As I like to think we ALL would if we shared her unique affliction, Hope has been sustaining herself through a mixture of petty crime and international jewel thievery, both of which become significantly easier when nobody remembers your presence.
Pitted against her through the book is the ultimate social network, which sees everything and forgets nothing, and which exists to engineer its users in its image as much as it supports them in their lives. The dissonance between the two extremes – the invisible and the all-seeing – gives the story a tension and pace that balances the hyper-detail of the narration and Hope’s necessary self-involvement (how can you have friends, lovers, family, if nobody remembers who you are?) to spectacular effect, making this one of the most rounded of North’s eclectic high-concept novels. North isn’t afraid to exploit the potential comedy of the central conceit, but is capable of fluid switches into angst, action, and philosophy that make for an electric and unpredictable narrative, and she drives her deeply relevant themes home with enviable style. Utterly recommended.