The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

sophie stark

Published: 2015
Author: Anna North

Tedious characters spoil a very well-written story


Sometimes the title and premise of a book is so intriguing that, even before you’ve read any other reviews, you know it’s a must read. For me The Life and Death of Sophie Stark was one of those books. Anna North’s debut novel has impressed critics, has had celebrities including Lena Dunham singing its praises, and has recently had the film rights snapped up. It’s been a hit, so the big question is did it meet up to my expectations and the plaudits it has received.

Told by six people who knew director Sophie Stark best (her lover, husband, brother, college crush, journalist who followed her career, and colleague) this follows Sophie’s life from her childhood through her time at college and her burgeoning career as a film director. A portrait is drawn of a complex woman who is brilliant and passionate but unable to form healthy relationships, including with her brother or lovers.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a wonderfully written and intelligent book but I can’t say that I enjoyed it that much. The structure was intriguingly non-linear and each of the narrators had their own clear voices and relationship with Sophie. My problem was that I just didn’t care about the characters enough, particularly Sophie. She was selfish, annoying and reminded me of people who think that their art is the most important thing in the world, worth being downright unpleasant to achieve what they want. I realise that this character trait and the fact that Sophie remains an enigma is part of the narrative, but I’m a reader who has to feel some connection with the characters (not necessarily like them, but connect) and I felt nothing but annoyance at Sophie and her behaviour.

Some of the other characters were more sympathetic – I particularly liked her brother and college crush but weren’t in the story for long enough to make much of an impact. Others who were more prominent ended up annoying me as well.

It’s always hard when reviewing a book where the talent of the writer and the fascination of the plot aren’t in question but the enjoyment is. It’s a deeply personal take on the novel and for others, for whom characters aren’t as important as plot and narrative structure, this will be a fabulous read. For me though the fact that I can’t even remember how Sophie dies just a few days after finishing the book indicates that this one, despite its many merits, just wasn’t for me.

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