Touch, by Claire North
Published: February 2015
The protagonist and narrator of Claire North’s Touch moves between bodies as easily as you or I try on clothes. The movement is so swift that the reader is almost left behind. A quick slip of a sentence to the next line and Kepler, as its foes call it, is a child holding a mother’s hand, a businessman walking to work, or even the US president.
The movement between bodies is reflected in the passing descriptions of the cities Kepler travels through, from Paris to New York, that invoke a world of kinetic energy that’s only wasted when we’re standing still. The effect is one of constant motion and it’s dizzying and sickly and sweet all at once.
Equally effective is the narrator, Kepler, who steals entire lives on a whim. It, described as such because its true gender is never revealed, changes mood as easily as people, striking out against rapists by ruining their lives, or operating as an estate agent, the term used to describe a broker in skins.
Kepler battles against an organisation intent on destroying its kind throughout the novel, so it’s always on the run, while North deals scenarios that reveal, bit by bit, the devastation that Kepler’s kind can cause. Opposite this theme is another that shows Kepler cannot help what it is, which acts as a counter weight that pulls the reader in multiple directions: right or wrong, the scale is always tipping between the two.
Touch is novel of movement that never lets the reader pause for breath. It’s as meaningful as The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August but nowhere near as linear. Readers with a penchant for the science fiction of the individual should read this, as long as they’re sitting down.