lunes, 23 de febrero de 2015

Touch, by Claire North

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Invisible Touch by Genesis (Spotify, YouTube).

There is no denying that Claire North has a talent for inventing mind-blowing plot ideas. In The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August it was the man who lived one life after another. In Touch, the protagonist has the ability to jump from one body to another just by touching. Neat, right?

So Touch has an extremely appealing premise, but also one that is inherently dangerous. After the initial novelty, it can wear thin very quickly and only an author with an almost perfect sense of pacing and balance can make it work for the length of a whole novel. And there is where Claire North excels. Touch is, mainly and from the very first scene, a thriller. We have chases, murders, near-escapes and, above all, a mystery (why did they kill Josephine Cebula?) which is the engine of the story (and a very one at that). 

But Touch is much more than your average thriller. North not only poses the idea of being able to change your body for a stranger's one with just a mere touch, but fully addresses what it will be like, how a person with such an ability would live. The novel explores these issues with flashbacks that are as interesting as the main plot or, simply, by showing how the protagonist uses his ability to get food, clothes and money. 

In this regard, North's prose is just astonishingly good in conveying the jumps, to a point that we can almost feel the dizziness and the disorientation but also the exhilarating emotion of it all:
I slipped from skin to skin, a bump, a shudder, a slowing-down and a speeding-up, a swaying of the carriage, a stepping on another's foot, I am
a child dressed in school uniform
an old man bent double over his stick.
I bleed in the body of a woman on the first day of her period,

ache down the soles of my tired builder's feet.
I crave alcohol, my nose burst and swollen from too much of the same.
The doors open and I am young again, and beautiful, dressed for summer in a slinky dress and hoping that the goosebumps on my flesh will not detract from the glamour I seek to express.
I am hungry
and now I am full,
desperate to pee by the carriage window,
eating crisps in the seat by the door.
I wear silk.
I wear nylon.
I loosen my tie.
I hurt in leather shoes.
My motion is constant, my skins are stationary, but by the brush of a hand on the rush-hour train
I am everyone.
I am no one at all.
The action of Touch takes place in a myriad different cities. From Istanbul to Belgrade, from Paris to New York. And, in all cases, North manages to perfectly describe each place with just a few amazing sentences:
Sisli Mecidiyekoy was a place sanctified to the gods of global unoriginality. From the white shopping arcades selling cheap whisky and DVDs on the life of the Prophet Muhammad to the towering skyscrapers for families with just enough wealth to be great but not quite enough to be exclusive, Sisli was a district of lights, concrete and uniformity. Uniform wealth, uniform ambition, uniform commerce, uniform, ties and uniform parking tariffs. 
And, of course, the soul of Touch are the characters. The unnamed main protagonist whose appearance is always different, but whom we get to know intimately. And all the amazing secondary characters: Alice Mair, Nathan Coyle, Janus... And Galileo, always Galileo. Touch is, beneath all the action and all the violence, a novel about what it means to be human. About love and hate. About what to live for. About what to die for.

Touch is an almost perfect novel, but it also has some minor flaws. It is, by no means, an easy read and, despite its short chapters that seem like an invitation to read it in big chunks, sometimes I found myself stopping after a few pages because it was too much to take in one gulp. Also, I think that the novel is a bit longer than it should be. Some of the chase scenes, especially in the last part of the book, really add nothing new and could have been edited out without affecting the plot. 

All in all, Touch is a fantastic novel. Gripping plot, deep characterization and wonderful prose that will, without a doubt, make it one of the most important books of the year. I highly recommend it and I am looking forward to finding some time to read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and all the other novels that Claire North has written as Catherine Webb and Kate Griffin. If they're as good as Touch, then I'm certainly in for an amazing treat.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)   

2 comentarios:

  1. Awesome review, as always. :)
    Claire North's novels sound very interesting, but despite my interest in both I failed to follow it with actually reading them. I need to correct this situation.

  2. Thanks, Mihai! I highly recommend Touch. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!