The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

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The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The life of a genius as told by the people who loved her most - and suffered most at her hands. Brilliant writing and a great story: highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: May 2015
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1474601252

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Waterstones New Year Book Club 2016

Sophie Stark wasn't born Sophie Stark - that's the person she decided to become. She didn't know that she wanted to become a film director either, but that is what she evolved into as she fought being the one who was different, as she tried to fit in but found that making movies actually drove her away from people. She was a genius when it came to making movies, but genius scythes through other people in pursuit of perfection, leaving disaster casually in its wake and Sophie was no exception to that rule.

Her story is told be the six people who loved her most, but who were the ones most affected by her life. Knowing genius must be a privilege, but it would be difficult for these people to feel that the privilege balanced out the negative effects of knowing Sophie Stark. Allison would later say that the months before Sophie came back to her were some of the happiest in her life. She'd originally encountered Sophie when she was telling a story at a club and Sophie spotted her potential as an actress. The connection wasn't purely professional and Allison recalls how they became lovers.

The Story is then taken up by Robbie, the brother brought up by Sophie, although the reverse might also have been true. Their father was dead and their mother 'young and sad and indecisive'. Knowing Sophie was never easy; being related to her even less so, particularly when Sophie began stalking one of the most popular boys in school - with a camera. The result was the start of her career. Then the story is taken up by Jacob, the man whose life she pilfered for the material for her greatest work and who never really understood why he married her, Daniel, the man she stalked, George, the movie producer who had the script for Sophie's last movie and R Benjamin Martin, the reporter who covered her work.

The delight is in the slight differences between the individual versions of the story, the assumptions you make when you read one version and the shock when you hear about it from a different angle - and they all ring so true. What is constant though is the use that's made of people for their stories, their experiences which can be built into a movie - and the way that they are discarded when their use is over.

I have no great interest in the movie industry, not much knowledge of how it works, yet I picked this book up and was totally immersed in a matter of pages and read it through in one sitting. It's a portrait of an enigma: an elegant telling of the perceptions of a genius by those around her, which made me wonder who Sophie Stark really was - and by extension whether any of us are more than the way other people see us. As Emma Donoghue says on the cover it is a thunderously good story: you're pretty certain of how it will end - there's a hint in the title - but even there there was a twist which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

The writing is exquisite: simple, unadorned and if you disregard the sheer ambition of the format of the story, completely without artifice. As each of the stories is a short story in itself the skill required to set the scene and build character in a matter of a few words is immense. North pulls it off with style. I believe this is her debut novel, but even if she was vastly experienced this book would suggest that she's an author to watch. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

The publishers compare the book to Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I did wonder if they were tempting fate, but having read the book I think they're spot on.

Booklists.jpg The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2015.

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Buy The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North at


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