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BOOK REVIEW: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

| 25 December 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

December 2015
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



“It’s hard for me to talk about love. I think movies are the way I do that.”

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a perfectly pleasant read, if one can really say that about a book that centres around something of a sociopath…

“I think I’m like one of those crabs, where it builds itself out of parts of other animals.”

Sophie Stark is a visionary and unapologetic filmmaker. She uses stories from the lives of those around her—the boy she was obsessed with in college, 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.

This is a story told in negative space, with each of the people who knew and loved Sophie the most telling the reader who she was to them, and how they came to know her.

There’s Allison – lover, actress, and topic of her second movie:

I told her Sophie and I were working together again, and she raised an eyebrow and asked if we were together together too. I said of course not, I was with Abe. She said that was good, he was a kind person, and Sophie wasn’t kind. I nodded, pretended that I agreed with her. I didn’t tell her I was realizing I wasn’t very kind either.

Robbie – brother, camera guy, protector, person who knew her best:

My sister’s left ear was higher than her right. Her mouth sloped down a little to the right side, and her cheekbones flared out of her thin face like wings. I had never noticed any of this before, and I might’ve gone my whole life without knowing it, if she hadn’t come to my door that day with her head completely shaved.

Jacob – Musician with a troubled childhood, the person who convinced Sophie to do something completely uncharacteristic and marry him, the subject of her third film:

And when people ask me why I married her that September, even though I’d only known her for three months and I knew it wouldn’t last, I tell them that a life is a heavy burden and imagine if someone just carried it for you for a while, just picked it up and carried it.

Daniel – the boy she was obsessed with and liked to follow around with a camera in college, the subject of her first film:

“That’s a terrible thing to say about yourself,” I told her.
She shrugged. “I call ’em like I see ’em,” she said. The phrase sounded weird, like she’s learned it from TV. She looked miserable, but she wasn’t crying. She looked like people look when they’ve cried all they can and they still don’t feel any better.

George – the producer who wants to bring Sophie in to make one of his scripts, before she makes any more of a name for herself and is too big to touch:

At the end, when Sophie stood in the bathroom with her shaved head, I watched her face – her crooked mouth, those giant eyes. I remembered how she’d looked on my couch the night before she left. I thought there might be a human thing inside her, trying to get out.

And Benjamin Martin – the reviewer who followed Sophie’s career right from the start:

An extended shot of the title character spinning around and around like the child he no longer quite is warmed the heart of even this jaded veiwer, who in the past thought himself profoundly allergic to anything remotely heartwarming.

This was an enjoyable story and interesting enough to keep the reader turning the pages, but not obsessively, not with any great drive, and this reviewer kept waiting to feel something, anything for the characters within.

In telling their stories about their interactions with Sophie, each of these characters gave us a certain amount of their own back story, too, in order to give us context as to who they were and how they reacted to things. And yet, their voices were incredibly similar, and this reader had to remind herself several times as to whose point of view she was reading.

Like I said at the start of the review, this was a perfectly pleasant read; not obsessive, not engrossing, but interesting. The betrayals weren’t felt as strongly as they could have been, but this was essentially a very realistic novel, dealing with the pursuit of creative endeavours by a person who will sacrifice pretty much anything for the sake of her art, but also taking a look at how different people process emotions, and how cut-off a person might feel if they don’t experience emotions in the same way.

“It’s like having everybody mispronounce your name, every day. And at first you try to correct them, but they keep fucking it up, and then you start to wonder if maybe you’re the one who’s wrong and that really is how you pronounce your name. And after a while you start to wonder if you even have a name. Are you even a person? Do you even exist? Who fucking knows!”


There were also a lot of fantastic lines throughout:.

About humanity:

I felt like I’d come to a place for people who didn’t know how to be people, and if I was there I must not really know how to be a person either.

Things that speak so true as to the thoughts of those who’ve been abused:

Really I wanted to ask him why, why he thought he could act that way to me, just shove himself against me without warning when we’d already gone over the scene. I was worried there was something about me, something that said, Do what you want with this one, some kind of smell on my skin.

The way that we can get so caught up in our own minds and work ourselves up, without any external help:

I was always the chubby, wimpy kid who said sorry before anyone could kick my ass. But for some reason I kept thinking I’d tap her on the shoulder and then she’d wheel on me or slug me in the face, and I’d fight back, but she’d fight harder or dirtier, biting me and kneeing me in the balls. I was getting mad as I walked down there, thinking about how she was cheating in the fight we weren’t having.

The way illness in a family affects more than just the one sentenced to death:

By the time Dad and Jenna came home, my cheek was only a little red and Mom was downstairs holding an ice pack and drinking tea. Part of me hoped Dad wouldn’t believe me, so maybe I could convince myself that Mom had slammed her hand in the car door or even that I’d hurt her, grabbed her little fingers and bent them back, something that recently I’d fantasized about doing.

About love:

I guess what I want people to know about Allison is sometimes you see someone and it’s like, ‘There, that’s the face, that’s what I’ve been looking for all this time.’ And then everything becomes interesting. It’s not always the face though – it could be the way they move, or the way they stand, or even just one of their ankles. It’s like someone walking over your grave when you meet that person, and after that it’s the best feeling, like fitting puzzle pieces together.

And about dealing with loss:

But each of those things seemed like enough of a possibility that whenever I thought about Sophie I ended up doing something bad, like drinking a whole bottle of gross gin or breaking all our drinking glasses so the kitchen was covered in shards and the dog cut his foot and I had to tweeze the glass out of his paw pads while he writhed and whined and I thought about cutting my own foot as penance, but I knew that wouldn’t make anything up to anybody.


If the voices of the characters had been a little more unique, this would probably have been an 8/10.


In the end, I would recommend this as a thinking person’s holiday read; it’s not light and fluffy, but neither is it dark and oppressive. It’s the kind of book that a range of readers can enjoy, and goodreads reviews suggest that certain people will absolutely love it, but there was just something missing for this reviewer.






Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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