Touch by Claire North (2015) 426 pages (paperback)
I started reading this intriguing science fantasy novel in October and finished it Christmas Day, 2018. It would take a normal reader a couple of days but I had my own nonsense to write.
Should be compulsory reading for writers.
Just like a piano tuner once told me that Puccini’s La Boheme was a singer’s opera then so Touch is a writers’ novel.
Many novels are 100,000 words of a story told through the senses of a single narrator in his or own singular body. Many others have perhaps a handful of narrators still within their own bodies. The art of the writer is to make the reader believe in those narrators, feel their sensations – what they smell, see, hear, touch and taste along with their fears, loves, and understand them, care for what happens to them. In Touch, we have one mind—the narrator’s—but hundreds of bodies. The clue is in the title: When Kepler touches the skin of someone else and wills it so, he / she can ‘jump’ into that person’s body and escape enemies, ripple to the front of a queue, learn skills, have fun or fear. Such a ‘ghost’ entity leaves the host perplexed, of course. Their own minds slept during their body invasion and awake maybe a few seconds, hours, days or rarely years later. Some are pleased that a boring journey only took seconds while others wake bloody in a hospital.
The writer in me saw something else besides a cunning plot and enviable literary skill. All those bodies of that single narrator are different. From the obese to the anorexic, old person to the child, hooker to doctor, murderer to the police officer, the bloom of health to a dying patient. All these characters and more became the body of the narrator and needed to be described, often in just a few clever words. Eg from Chapter 64 “…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 to 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…”
I have not touched on the main story or its subplots. Like many of my own surreal stories the concept is, to me, more interesting and dare I say, more important, than the story itself.
SUPPOSE WE – a science fiction novella, is with the publisher’s editor as we speak. FALLING UP, its sequel is nearly written.
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