Review: ‘The Life and Death of Sophie Stark’ (Anna North)

The Book

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North
Published: Orion Publishing, 2015
Genre: Literary fiction

Synopsis (from back of book):

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is the story of an engimatic film director, told by the six people who loved her most.

Brilliant, infuriating, all-seeing and unknowable, Sophie Stark makes films said to be ‘more like life than life itself’. But her genius comes at a terrible cost: to her husband, to the brother she left behind, and to an actress who knows too much.

What I Thought:

This was a terrific read. Pacy, beautifully written and a truly original, perceptive and thought-provoking study of character. Each chapter is narrated by a different voice: Sophie’s girlfriend (and actress) Allison; her brother Robbie; Daniel, the boy Sophie’s obsession with in college leads to her first film and so on. Sophie herself doesn’t get a chapter but her voice and character come shining out of the voices of those who knew her best (or thought they did).

What we realise as the novel progresses, is that everyone knew her differently: was that their failing or hers? Can we ever really know one another? And do we perhaps only come to know ourselves through the lens others reflect back at us?

The book also explores the cost of genius, the sense of isolation all humans carry no matter how far (and how differently) they try to run from it, our connection to other people and to this earth, and whether we can ever be both true to ourselves and to others at the same time. The character of Sophie is both universal and utterly unknowable. She is complex in her simplicity, joyful in her desolation, helpless in her strength. A very interesting character study and some completely wonderful sentences. I loved how the prose left things hanging, played with images (fitting, as Sophie is a film director), and struck a strong emotional chord using a character who struggled with how to feel (and show) emotions like “normal” people.

Okay, the book wasn’t perfect. There were a few parts towards the end in particular where I would have liked the characters to do less explaining, and more leaving interpretations open to the reader. I felt at times like things that would have been more powerful unsaid were over explained, but overall I think this book is a terrific example of the power of the time break and paragraph space.

A really interesting and rewarding read that had me gripped from start to finish. Highly recommend.

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