The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

In brief: Sophie Stark is a difficult person to know. Here, the six people who knew her best try and explain this enigma, from her personal life to professional life as a director.

The good: Difficult to tear your eyes from the page.

The not-so-good: It was hard to say goodbye to the person describing Sophie at the end of each chapter.

Why I chose it: The cover intrigued me, thanks to Hachette Australia for the copy.

Year: 2015

Pages: 290

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Hachette)

Setting: USA

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark will blow you away, it is that good. It’s a story that will give you a book hangover because after you’ve read the final page, everything will pale in comparison. It is hauntingly fantastic, brilliantly crafted and emotional. It’s the type of book you’ll happily forego sleep for, beautifully constructed, eerie and yet finely in tune with the human condition. This book will rock your world.

So even though the title gives you a pretty good indication that this book is about Sophie Stark, what kind of book is it? It’s not a whodunit, even though mystery surrounds Sophie throughout her life. It’s not a romance with a tragic end, even those both of those occur in the book. It’s the story of one person, yet we never really know how Sophie feels because the story is told by the people who knew her best. All we know about Sophie is what she told them (not very much) and their interactions with Sophie. It’s about film making, although I wouldn’t say that this is the main focus. To me, the story is about a unique soul who doesn’t really fit into today’s world. Sophie sometimes tries to belong, sometimes she goes out of her way to defy convention. What she is excellent at is getting other people to tell their stories. All of the characters who have a chapter in this book reveal deeply personal things to the reader and Sophie, which is another one of the reasons the book is so wonderful. It almost feels like a Post-Secret type confession at times, which is kind of voyeuristic but also frighteningly interesting.

I really like the cover too – it’s kind of androgynous, like Sophie and it is mysterious too. We know so little of Sophie, on the cover we even know her hair colour. It’s a good reflection of the book – so much of Robbie, Allison, Daniel and others but so little of Sophie. I think Allison could hold her own in a story revolving around her – she’s narcissistic and makes enough of the wrong choices to be fascinating. Robbie (Sophie’s brother), is just a straight forward, good guy. I was interested to see what became of Daniel post college and I wonder how the tragedy that befell him was symbolic of his interaction with Sophie. It seemed that all of the characters fell out of the spotlight post-Sophie. Was she the one silently encouraging them to aim for the stars?

The ending of the book was incredibly powerful, yet brutal. Typical of Sophie. The final feature fit in beautifully, yet Robbie’s retelling of Sophie’s death was visceral. It made me question Sophie’s motives throughout her life – was it all heading towards this or was it one quick decision?

I could go on and on about The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, analysing the symbolism, the meanings of the actions of the characters and what it all meant. (It’s one of the few books I’d happily do that for.) But that’s very boring for you, as the person reading this review. Just go and read it – you won’t be disappointed. Anna North is a writer to watch for – she’s a master of character and construction.

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