July Discussion Sudden appearance of hopeLet’s discuss The Sudden Appearance of Hope! Read through my discussion prompts below, then add your thoughts on those or anything else you felt was important to you. If you have written a review please include a link to it, and ask a question for me (or other book club buddies) to answer. And remember to check back to see if people have replied to your comments.

**WARNING** The discussion prompts and comments below will contain spoilers for The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Only continue if you have read the book!

What was your overall impression of the book?

I have very mixed feelings about The Sudden Appearance of Hope. I really wanted to love it, the premise was so interesting, and the style was so unusual. But somehow it still fell a little flat for me. Everything that I loved about the novel had a flip side to it and that’s what is leaving me sitting on the fence.

I loved the vivid descriptions of the locations around the world. Some of them I have been to and they came alive supplemented by my memories, while others were places that now feel real to me and I am aching to visit them. But when I reflect on it, I do wonder why there were so many locations. There were almost a dozen major locations throughout the novel, and aside from emphasizing the transient nature of Hope’s life it only added to the disjointed feeling of the novel.

I also really loved the program ‘Perfection’. It was such an interesting idea to explore an app that has defined what ‘perfection’ is as a concept and then manipulated people into attempting to attain it. Yet the reality is revealed that for some people that version of perfection will never be attainable, because ‘straight, white, rich, male’ simply does not apply to the majority of the world. The attempt to attain it therefore becomes an exercise in increasing inequality. There was something every powerful there, and in the assertion that there is a ‘digital aristocracy’ amongst those with access to the best technologies, but it was woefully under-explored and left me feeling empty.

“a digital aristocracy, and the imperfect of this world are little better than the serfs”

Did you enjoy the writing style?

Once I got into the writing of this book I found it had a strangely addictive cadence, a rhythm of words that draws you in. At times it felt like reading modern poetry, with the short choppy sentences, strange line spacing, inconsistent punctuation and capitalisation. I also enjoyed the addition of the dictionary and wikipedia definitions of things. It felt like being inside Hope’s head, which was a very strange place, as she sought knowledge to give herself some kind of permanence. However, I think that these style choices had the overall result of making the book very emotionally detached. I could not feel anything of any of the characters, least of all Hope. The disjointed style left me feeling quite cold about the whole novel.

“Now.
You forget.
Now.
I am real.
Reality: the conjectured state of things as they actually exist.” 

How did you feel about the ending of the novel?

The scene on the cliffs with Byron’s death really frustrated me, it seemed as though it was the inevitable, and easy, way out and I had been hoping for something more. However I was glad that the novel actually ended with Hope finding a home of sorts, in coming back to her sister, the one person from her past who remembers her. It felt like a moment of absolution, Hope writing her own story, making herself memorable, and becoming part of her sister’s story again.

“Remember these, my words.
Now that I am home.
Now that I am, at last, myself.
Now that I am Hope.
Remember me.”

What did you think of the novel’s representation of the media?

My favourite sections of this novel were the harsh assessments of the conditions created by modern Capitalism and consumer culture, particularly as it is promoted or forwarded by the media. On pages 239-240 of my edition (Chapter 56) there is a scathing and fatalistic breakdown of the impact that a media mogul in pursuit of sensationalism and without regard for greater public good can have on society. An indictment of the needless pain caused by inflammatory words.

“[He] did not print the views of the experts, but rather… printed the screaming. Always, the world screaming, loudly, screaming.”

“All those lives destroyed, the suffocation of debate, the raising up of noise over content, the simplification, objectification, the brutal destruction of thought that he committed against all mankind.”

Did you enjoy the sci-fi/fantasy elements of the book?

I thought that the premise of someone who is immediately forgotten was a really interesting one. I think that it was explained quite well, but that the impact of it was over-explained. The act of being forgotten became more often the focus than the actual action occurring in the book. It would have been interesting to learn more about the other ‘forgotten’ people, as if there were two who found eachother I assume there would be more. I can see that North used the ‘disappearing’ as a way in which to examine what it is to be ‘present’ and how so much of what we value about ourselves and others is based on the past, but I felt that there was a disconnect between the intent and the execution.

“What matters, therefore, is not hope for things to come, nor regret for things passed, but this action in this moment, these deeds, this now.”

Look forward to hearing your thoughts and I hope you’ll join me in August as we read Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84!

Tamsien - Babbling Books
Reader, blogger, photographer with perpetually itchy feet. Host of Babbling Books' Readalongs and curator of a very eclectic Instagram account.

3 Comments

  1. My overall impression of the book:
    I wasn’t sure, going in, how I would feel about the book, but I loved it! My mom has Alzheimer’s and I am her 24/7 caregiver, and I am constantly forgotten. If I leave the room for a couple of minutes and then return, my mom will demand to know where the “other woman who was just here” went. I have also become “invisible” to family members and former friends who don’t want to be faced with her illness, so I can really identify with Hope’s sense of emptiness and frustration.
    I loved the different locations (especially since she had some of my favorite places in there!), and the descriptions were so vivid, although I think some of them were a little bit more filler than plot.
    I found the idea of the Perfection app to be very intriguing- and how ironic that most people’s idea of perfection is so frighteningly shallow and conformist!

    The writing style: I loved it! I felt completely swept away in the stream of thought and information. It was very easy to read, and I really liked the disjointed effect; it was like falling right into someone else’s brain.

    The ending of the novel: I found the book really lost steam with the 206 event; everything became predictable and it was more difficult reading after that. In my opinion, the final section could have used some editing and trimming- it really started to drag for me, which was a shame because most of the book went so well. It took me as long to read the last 80-ish pages as it did to read the whole rest of the book. I wasn’t emotionally invested enough in Byron to really care if she killed herself, was killed, or ended up in prison for life. I was happy for Hope that her sister remembered her, but it also made me wonder: if she was so desperate to be remembered, and she knew that animals and certain types of people did remember her, why didn’t she spend more time around people like that, so that someone (besides her sister) did remember her?

    The novel’s representation of the media: I totally agree with Tamsien’s comments on this.

    The scifi/fantasy elements of the book: I really did enjoy the implications of an app like Perfection (and wonder how far off we are from something like that in real life, when we look at the ridiculous surgeries people undergo in the name of beauty, the relentless branding of every aspect of life, and part of success in our society is the willingness and ability to conform). It would have been interesting if North had taken her idea farther and created a total dystopian society based on the Perfection app.

    My only real complaint with the book was that there was no way you could possibly forget that Hope was forgettable- there were times when I thought North could have passed up mentioning it, because the story said it anyway, it didn’t constantly have to be hammered home in so many words.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and it is very likely that I will be reading more of Ms North in the future.

    I am really glad I found your book group; I have been looking at your list of upcoming books, and I love the choices! 😀

    1. Thank you for joining in an sharing all your thoughts. It’s great to hear that we felt quite similar about the book, but placed emphasis on different things.

      That is really sad to hear that you feel invisible to your family because of your mother’s illness and your role. But I do hope that being part of a community of readers shows that you are not at all forgotten, at least in this space.

      I like the question that you raised about Hope’s attitude towards those who could remember her. Why was she not getting more involved with her sister earlier, or seeking out those who could remember her such as the brief time that she spent with the elderly in New York? It seems strange to me that this was not explored more, when so many other aspects of her ‘affliction’ are, including her 2 attempts at a relationship of sorts (1 being more one sided that the other!).

      I’ll definitely be looking out for more of her novels too, and look forward to reading with you in the coming months!

  2. Hi Tamsien,

    Believe it or not! I only finished this a few days ago! This book was a real struggle for me.
    (And this is a rare feat! I’ve only ever not finished a book once).

    I think the disjointed style really set me back – not being able to emotionally attach myself to Hope, I think was my problem. Without the flow of narrative, essentially Hope becomes a ‘forgettable’ character.

    But I also think North purposefully writes this disjointed way because Hope herself cannot form emotional attachments – at least not reciprocal ones. So, once I got my head around the fact that in reading this book, I was really experiencing Hope’s world, I was able to finish.

    I agree, this book had so much potential but just tried to do that bit too much. I also could t understand why Hope didn’t academically thrive in school (before her condition arose) but seems to be able to remember all these tidbits of information at the drop of a hat afterwards. Like rainman.

    The ending — It left me wanting.
    I just don’t know, maybe it was the whole tone of the book that dampened the ending for me.
    I am glad she is back with her sister, the one person who has never forgotten her.

    The representation of media is pretty spot on, in regards to our immersive nature with Facebook/twitter/tinder etc
    We fail to live in the world around us anymore – the 106/206 are this clique group of the new age like the “popular kids” in high school – but when you break it down the 106/206 are branded by perfection but it can never be truly attained.
    The saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is seemingly made redundant, as the ‘beholder’ is the Perfection app.
    Everyone has become a slave to a machine.
    Instead of an industrial motivation like “brave new world”, people are slaves to consumerism.
    I found that Hope had a similar need to reaffirm herself in her own way, with referring to herself as “the greatest thief of all time” etc
    But it’s hard not to be when you really cannot get caught.

    I did love Norths correlation between women’s perfection being superficial and men’s being personal. There was an inequality in the evaluation of what “perfection” really is.
    Women had to be young and busty; where as men had to be successful, funny and intelligent.

    As Tamsien said, and I agree- there are so many elements to this book that were good and had the potential to be great, but their exploration fell short. There was just so much going on some elements didn’t delve deep enough for me.

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