Review: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

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“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.

Published in Australia by Hachette.


An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


How do we appear through other people’s eyes?  This is the question that is central to The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, a book which revolves around the titular Sophie Stark – giving us, as the title itself suggests, her life and death – but without ever giving us anything from Sophie’s own point of view.

Sophie Stark is a filmmaker.  In high school, she followed the boy she was infatuated with, her camera rolling the whole time.  From the footage, she made the independent short film, Daniel.  Later, she made the movie Marianne, her girlfriend at the time in the title role.  Marianne is the film that brought her attention, and eventually resulted in a big budget film, Beatrice.

It all sounds like the simple rise of a filmmaker, until you scratch the surface of the stories people tell about Sophie Stark.  Sophie is a woman unable to relate truly to people face-to-face, and prefers to view the world through the medium of film and her camera, always a step away.  More, all of her successful films have resulted from a kind of vampirism, all of them based upon – almost stolen from – the lives of the people around her.

We see Sophie only through the eyes of those whose lives intertwine with hers.  Daniel, subject of her first film, gives us a perspective of Sophie as she was in school, and later threads are woven into her life by lovers, her brother, and her manager.  Each of these people only ever sees a fragment of the real Sophie, and the stories and fragments intertwine until we can almost see the full and real Sophie.  It’s a very clever literary trick that North pulls off admirably.  At times, it feels as though you are almost seeing events from Sophie’s point-of-view, and then there is a cut or change of scene, reminding you that you are only ever seeing her through someone else’s eyes, reflecting the only way she can see the world herself.

Sophie, at the heart of it, is not a likeable character.  She is obsessive and detached, almost sociopathic in the way she feeds upon other people in order to show truth – as she sees it – through the medium of her films.  And yet it is impossible to hate her, even as she leaves other people’s lives in ruins.  She is broken herself, unable to truly relate to others, and it is easy to read her films as a desperate attempt at understanding other people, and understanding herself.  And when it is called for, she even feeds off her own life, sparing not even herself in her search for truth.

On the surface, the book sounds complex, but reading it is anything but.  The switches between point of view happen fluidly, and through all of it, Sophie Stark shines vividly, just a step away from the reader, always just out of reach.

Highly recommended.  North is an exceptionally talented writer and I look forward to reading more of her work.

 

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