The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, by Anna North
The dazzling sun at the centre of this novel is Sophie Stark; a bold, flawed, compelling character unlike any I can remember encountering in fiction recently. But, tantalisingly, her bright light is only ever glimpsed through the prism of other characters’ perception.
Sophie is a critically-acclaimed film director and maker of brutal choices. She is charismatic, vulnerable and painfully flawed. Or at least she seems to be. Her story is told by 6 people who love her in one way or another; girlfriend, husband, brother etc, and all of her actions and mistakes are translated through their devotion to her.
Lots of press reviews are touting this as one of the ‘big books’ of 2016. And there are certainly things about it that I like: it is stylish and interesting, I enjoyed how we get to know each of the viewpoint characters - through their descriptions of Sophie they give away much more about themselves, and I was impressed by how quickly and easily I cared for them - and the character of Sophie herself is great. But, personally, I struggled to truly connect with the book as a whole.
One major flaw for me was that I didn’t find the descriptions of her films - her great talent - very convincing. They just didn’t sound interesting and it seemed odd for them to be so acclaimed - simply being told they were good somehow wasn’t enough. There are also reviews peppered through the text didn’t work for me at all. They didn’t read like authentic reviews, and while the reason for that is explained at the end, it didn’t stop it being jarring all the way through. Most importantly, I didn't find the ending emotionally satisfying - it was clever, and neat, and I was impressed by the idea, but I didn't feel affected by it in the way I would have hoped.
Like the character of Sophie Stark herself, the book is bold, stylish, interesting and occasionally loveable, but in the end deeply flawed.