Having dealt so memorably with death in The End of the Day, Claire North sets her sights on life in 84K, a powerful and provocative novel that nods to George Orwell at the same time as narrating a tale not even he could tell so well. It’s not an easy read—not that you’d take Nineteen Eighty-Four to the beach either—but buckle up, because what it is is brilliant ... both stylistically and structurally, North goes out of her way in 84K to stress the disconnectedness of her new world. In this future—a future that is not so far removed from our own as we might like to tell ourselves—people have become disconnected from one another, and some, such as Theo, have become disconnected from themselves, from their own thoughts and feelings and ambitions and beliefs ... It’s a brutal but truthful book about losing touch with what matters most, and maybe, just maybe, finding it again.
On the one hand, it’s a terrifying look at capitalism’s slippery slopes and a realistic depiction of how a person’s will can shrivel into apathy and fear. On the other, it’s not an easy reading experience ... random line breaks combine with almost constant ellipses to lend the novel a distracted air, where no one seems able to carry a thought to its conclusion. This is a deliberate stylistic choice—but it’s also exasperating ... That aside, 84K is absorbing and timely; a book to wrestle and argue with, but first and foremost, to read.
There's Theo figuring stuff out and then there's Theo doing things about what he has learned and then there's Theo remembering things from the past (mostly, how he became Theo and how the world became the world). But North handles it. With style and voice and a wicked grip that never lets the three-way plot spiral out of control. Long sections run in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, with words just rolling out of her. Others are surgically precise, describing the thousand small horrors of the world that Theo, Dani and the rest occupy. And all together they make a story that is rare—one of those that is so good I didn't want it to end, but so sad I didn't want to read another page.