Once again, Claire North thinks up an interesting concept but entirely fails to deliver. If you’re like me and you found The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August a disappointment, then I’d suggest giving this one a miss. Though Goddamn it had such potential I’m almost mad.
It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time. A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.
Hope is the girl that no one remembers; she could have known you for years yet every time you see her she’s a perfect stranger. She doesn’t know why the world has forgotten her, but she knows it’s damn near impossible to lead a normal life. So she turns to a life of crime, which is utterly, utterly boring.
It wouldn’t be so bad if Hope wasn’t such a robotic drone. I get it, her condition is likely the type to induce heartbreak; she’s learned to shut herself off from the world to avoid the pain. I understand. But if you’re going to write a character like that, you still need to find a way to make her relatable, interesting. Making your MC a jewel thief does not automatically make her an interesting character. She certainly sets herself up as one, describing her illegal behavior as cruel, her using her “condition” the way she does as manipulative. She tells us she’s an interesting morally-ambiguous character but she doesn’t follow through with the emotion. In other words, painfully cliche words, show don’t tell!
And while we’re on the subject of the MC, what was with the incessant listing of things? And the random spewing of useless pub quiz trivia that didn’t have anything to do with the plot or character development?
“Traditional arts in Japan: sumo, karate, kendo, judo, kyudo, kabuchi, origami, flower arrangement.
Hierarchy. A sumo stable is organised with militay discipline. At the bottom are the jonokushi, then makushika and juryo. Only forty-two elite makuuchi exist at any time, their matches broadcast on television, life expectancy at least ten years lower than the national average.”
What’s the point of all that?! So what if you’re in Japan? I don’t need a paragraph of Japan-related facts that aren’t of any consequence. This has nothing to do with why you’re here! Is it supposed to show us how well-read Hope is? Give a fuck! EMOTION. SHOW US EMOTION. We didn’t even get any during a flashback scene of her parents forgetting her. That shit would have been heartbreaking. Why is the MC such a robot?
I wish I could say that the plot earned some points but no. The idea was mildly intriguing: everyone has this app called Perfection that encourages you to be the best you can be by taking over your bank accounts and the likes.
“I lost five stone through Perfection!” said a British woman I swam with in the salt lagoon. “I’m at seven hundred and fifty thousand points and it automated my online shop because I was buying too many fatty foods, put me on a seasonal diet of greens and nuts, isn’t it wonderful?”
Yes, it’s an interesting hook, mainly because you can’t help but think it’s such an unbelievable premise. How is everyone in the world so stupid? The app is ridiculous, promoted elitism and body shaming, yet somehow it’s the biggest thing in the world. Hope’s quest to take down the makers of this absurd app only starts about a third of the way in (pretty much when I DNF’d), but I’d have most likely kept reading if North had added more suspense. That’s what you’re supposed to do in these kind of novels: make me wonder how the hell everyone downloaded this app, what on earth are these app designers doing, why Hope has this condition, etc. But in my opinion Claire North needs to take some suspense-building classes because she does not know how to capture an audience. By failing to make me care, and moping on and on with an emotionless MC, North just completely lost me.
It takes skill to write a boring jewel thief. It takes skill to lose a reader’s interest when the premise is so unique. It also takes skill to write a good novel, and if Claire North doesn’t have it by now (after publishing a great many books), I’m not sure she ever will.
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