Gripping and provocative, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark tells a story of fame, love, and legacy through the propulsive rise of an iconoclastic artist.
“It’s hard for me to talk about love. I think movies are the way I do that,” says Sophie Stark, a visionary and unapologetic filmmaker. She uses stories from the lives of those around her—her obsession, her girlfriend, and her husband—to create movies that bring her critical recognition and acclaim. But as her career explodes, Sophie’s unwavering dedication to her art leads to the shattering betrayal of the people she loves most.
Told in a chorus of voices belonging to those who knew her best, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is an intimate portrait of an elusive woman whose monumental talent and relentless pursuit of truth reveal the cost of producing great art, both for the artist and for the people around her.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a story told by six narrators, all people who were involved with the filmmaker in some way throughout the course of her life, right up to her untimely death. We hear from Sophie’s past lovers, her brother, her husband, a producer and a film critic. It is through these people that we build up our own image of the elusive Sophie Stark as she struggles to navigate a world that she never feels as though she quite belongs in.
So just who is Sophie Stark? According to those who knew her best she is many things… A loner, a genius, emotionally unstable, unfeeling, rude, difficult, uncaring, ruthless, someone who can only relate to other human beings through the safety of a camera lens… You could use all of the adjectives in the world to describe Sophie Stark but after finishing this breath taking novel I still don’t quite know which ones would be correct…
I was overly involved and tangled up in this story right from the start, as we hear from Allison. Allison is someone that Sophie chose to star in one of her films as she re-created her story and she then went on to become Sophie’s lover. I really enjoyed Allison’s narrative and was pleased that we get to hear from her later on in the story and discover the path that her life has taken, both during and after her involvement with Sophie.
I enjoyed reading from the perspective of each of the six different narrators of the story. It’s amazing how you can build up a profile of someone purely from other people’s accounts. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel in this format before and it makes the story even more unique and interesting.
When we first hear from Sophie’s brother, Robbie, we get to build up a picture of what Sophie was like when she was younger. I must admit that I warmed to image that Robbie created of his sister at first. I felt for her; she was different to everyone else and treated appallingly by others as she was growing up. Yet she never seemed to care. I know that this should be a good thing but it seemed as though she got to the point where she was almost strangely unfeeling. This becomes more apparent as she gets older and we hear from Allison once again and a producer that worked with Sophie during the height of her fame.
However, I still believe that there was more to this young woman than meets the eye. For example when Dan (a boy who Sophie was obsessed with during college – an obsession which led her to make her first film) comes to the end of his chapter I thought that maybe there was something about Sophie that I was missing… I don’t know. I’m still not sure. One thing I am sure about is that Sophie Stark is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating characters I think I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about.
There was something haunting and quite disturbing about this novel. It will leave you re-reading passages and then staring at the wall as you stop to take in what’s been said. I found it to be one of the most powerful novels I’ve read of recent times because it made me stop, think and ask questions. Not just questions about the novel, but questions about life and people (Ooh, deep!) How well do we really know a person? Is it possible to ever fully understand other people? Thinking this would be a novel entirely about someone called Sophie Stark I soon realised that I was mistaken – this is a novel not just about a troubled yet talented filmmaker, but it’s more about the PEOPLE that Sophie’s life has touched.
I can’t believe that I am only just discovering Anna North’s writing. I really feel as though I have been missing out on something special. I couldn’t get enough of this novel and I don’t consider myself to be a fast reader yet I devoured this in two days. I constantly wanted to find out more and even though you can sense the way in which the story is going (it’s called The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, after all) you won’t be able to stop hungrily turning the pages to see how things pan out, not just for Sophie but for the other people in her life.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is an engrossing, haunting and highly recommended novel. If you’re on the lookout for something just that little bit different then this could be the novel for you. I know this story will stay with me for a long time to come and Sophie Stark is someone who I will go down as one of the most thought-provoking characters I think I’ve ever come across…
A huge thank you to Lucy at Orion and publishers W&N for approving me to read The Life and Death of Sophie Stark on NetGalley. ♥
Anna North is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her first novel, America Pacifica, was published in 2011, and her second novel, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark will be published by Blue Rider Press in May 2015. She has been a writer and editor at Jezebel, BuzzFeed, and Salon, and is now a staff editor at the New York Times.