Clive Reply to on 13 October 2017
|Some time ago, a colleague recommended another Claire North book, 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August' and I still hold it to be one of the best novels that I've ever read. So, upon seeing 'Touch' on my Kindle page, I didn't need any persuading to buy it. I was right; it's fantastic!
As with other Claire North books, she takes a fairly simple, but physically impossible, concept and the uses it as the basis for a story that works on many different levels; a thriller, a love story, an exploration of human nature, an expose of prejudice etc. In 'The First Fifteen Lives ...' the concept is one of perpetual reincarnation. In 'Touch' the concept is that a sentient entity, with a mind and a memory but with no corporeal body, can occupy and take over any human with which it can make skin to skin contact. Once 'possessed', the human simply blanks out and wakes up, minutes, hours, days or years later, when the entity leaves it to move on to another body and the 'host' has no memory of anything that was done while the entity occupied its body. One of the things that makes this book so brilliant is the detail of the mechanics of how this possession works. The only thing that prevents the entity from living forever, simply moving into a new body when required, is that, if the host body dies while the entity remains in possession, then the entity dies too.
As with other CN books, the basic concept isn't original. The 1998 film 'Fallen', starring Denzel Washington, has a very similar theme, with Washington playing a detective trying to catch a serial killer who is, actually, a demon called Azazel which can take control of any sentient body that it touches. What makes the CN novels stand out is the literary skill with which the ideas are conveyed.
Here, the main character is referred to as 'Kepler' but, not only are we told that this is an invented name but we never even discover the gender of Kepler as all such entities, known as 'ghosts', occupy both male and female hosts indiscriminately. Kepler has existed for some 400 years and remembers everything of its experiences in hundreds of hosts.
The tension required to power the thriller element comes from the conflict with a 'baddie' entity called 'Galileo'. Galileo has a penchant for taking control of a body and then making it do terrible things, including massacres of innocents before making the host kill itself as Galileo jumps to another body.. One of the strange things for me was that, while reading this book, the mass shooting in Las Vegas in which Stephen Paddock fired automatic weapons into a crowd at a concert, killing 58 and injuring 500 others, before killing himself; a real life event that mirrored, exactly, how Galileo operates in this fictional novel. The thriller element of the book concludes with the inevitable face-off between Kepler (good entity) and Galileo (bad
But this book works on more than one level. By removing traditional concepts of gender or sexual attraction, this manages to tease out intriguing concepts of the nature of love. Kepler truly loves several of the bodies that he/she inhabits as well as a complex array of shades of love for others around him. When a 'host' falls in love with Kepler, given that Kepler occupies many bodies of all ages, genders and proclivities, it is a brilliant exploration of stripping appearance and gender from the concept of love.
The end of this book gets just a little confusing, as the chase between two entities has them switching bodies with lightning speed, leaving the reader to catch up. In addition, there are a couple of details that remain unexplained; for example, it seems that, sometimes, one entity can recognize another entity, in whatever body it currently occupies while, at other times, this isn't possible. But these are very minor criticisms in what is, really, a genuine blockbuster of a book.
I absolutely loved this book and I'll read more of Claire North's work.