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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Sweet Harmony by Claire North review


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Order Sweet Harmony over here: USA/UK

About the author: Claire North is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb, a Carnegie Medal-nominated author whose first book was written when she was just fourteen years old. She went on to write several other novels in various genres, before publishing her first major work as Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, in 2014. 

Format: Sweet Harmony is published by Orbit Books on September 22nd, in North America, and in the UK. Page count: 134 p.

Review: I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the past few months. Short stories, long stories, pacey thrillers, you name it. Most of my reading choices go by whim, but, luckily, only a few disappointed me. I hope to read more exciting titles this year but I doubt more than one or two will top Sweet Harmony. It's perfect. And terrifying. 

Harmony doesn't have hobbies or deep thoughts, but she has ambitions. 
She is excited for the future; she has dreams, ambitions; she has chosen the house she’s going to buy when she’s got the money; she has chosen, if not the man she’ll marry, then certainly the car he’ll drive, and the white cashmere jumper he’ll wear on casual Sundays at garden parties.
In her timeline, not far in the future, everyone can pursue and attain perfection by upgrading their Nanos - apps controlling nanobots influencing and improving physiological and nervous functions. Possibilities are countless, as long as you can afford them. No More Dentists will keep your teeth white and your breath minty-fresh. Elevation, the ultimate pack for the sexual woman, will enhance your libido and bring your hormones into perfect balance. Powerful Poise develops a muscular definition combined with feminine sensuality, no training required. For £39.99 a month you'll get a perfect stubble and a further £82.99 will secure you the latest pheromone enhancement technology. 

Successful people and aspiring professionals keep their Nanos up to date and always look for new improvements. Before they realize it, they start to spend staggering sums on continuous self-improvement. Healthcare providers feel morally and contractually obliged to ensure their clients' immunization packages remain functional even in times of financial strain. At the same time, they feel comfortable with disabling non-essential services (like smell or color-vision) until payment is received. 

Sweet Harmony is a great study of perspective, ambition, privilege, and addiction – short chapters set in converging timelines present Harmony's path to a dire situation. There is a super great social commentary here as well as a deep and terrifying character study.  It offers a scathing look at how well-meaning people can ruin themselves and their close ones. 

Only a few models and actresses could pull off the naturalist’s look these days, and even then most fashion magazines tended to agree that while it was all very impressive and that, it wasn’t the choice of the true superstar. The trend-setting idols were the ones who were getting custom nanos programmed directly by the health product designers; from the rock stars with the shimmer of scaled snakeskin translucence on their skin, through to the eagle-eyed, black-tongued bad boys of the studios, programmed to shock, surprise or just to have the perfect build for their next explosive blockbuster.
North's sobering take on the culture of debt and want-driven society terrifies because it's plausible and true. Tech companies base their marketing strategies on deep understanding of consumers' fears and desires. Ultimately, though, people can only blame themselves for falling for it and for decisions they make. Harmony's emotional and financial struggles are heart-wrenching, but were they really undeserved? 

Times being what they are, I should probably pick more optimistic titles. But I have no regrets. Claire North has mastered the novella format. In Sweet Harmony, every word counts, every scene serves a goal, and Harmony's decisions have a cost. North's take on nano-upgrades, a sense of identity, and addiction is terrifying, plausible, and intelligent. An outstanding novella.



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