Anna North’s sophomore novel, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark paints the portrait of an elusive perceived genius of film, Sophie Stark. Her story is told in segments from her brother, lover and husband just to name a few, who experienced her and their journey together through film. Her brother Robbie who introduced her to the medium, Allison who became her inspiration and muse, and the man who would be her husband, Jacob, used as bridge to something normal, whatever that is.
Sophie is written as through she is anchor in a deepening sea of uncertainty. The narrators each speak honestly of Sophie’s refusal to be more than she was, how she hurt them, and how even through the hurt lingers they loved her more than they ever could themselves. They, in turn, gave to Sophie in ways they couldn’t give to lovers, family or friends. However, they were never satiated in their desire for a piece of something so unlike themselves. Someone who they could never describe. They’re trying to put words not to a person, but to an experience. This inability of the narrators makes her bigger than she is, a martyr of cinema.
The beginning of this novel is rough. Opening with quick and uncertain sentences. The writing feels rushed, nervous, much like the character Allison begins with her first interactions with Sophie. I felt lost at first, as the first chapter is told out of sequence. Sophie is introduced if feels almost by accident. It’s not until later, after her film Marianne do we start to see the beginning of something more, a pattern of actions and choices made by Sophie to feel more real, and to relate to those around her. The confidence of the narrators don’t really come through until there’s nothing left of Sophie.
As a reader I too became tired, just as Sophie is described every few pages. I felt like she became a whisper, an urban myth being told to friends and classmates about someone who someone once knew. She became bigger than a rumor by the end of the story told. Did I love North’s novel? I honestly can’t be certain. I don’t feel so impassioned as I have other novels, but I can’t stop talking about it. It’s not that it didn’t explain, or didn’t answer the questions it asked of itself. Much like the story, I am struck by the legend created by my brief time with Sophie Stark.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is available May 19th 2015 from Blue Rider Press.