book review – ‘the life and death of sophie stark’ by anna north (May 19, 2015)

the life and death of sofie starkWhen I finished this novel, I sat on my couch with a cup of coffee and shivered. I sat and shook and held my knees. All I could think about was Sophie. I wasn’t cold; I wasn’t sad; I was overwhelmed. I was devastated…but not in a way that fits at all with the definition of the word. I was devastatingly satisfied, genuinely happy in a way I’d not felt in years. I was complete.

Perhaps these words, this reaction, won’t make sense to most people. The vast majority of books are easy to think about: good, bad, thoughtful, well (or poorly) written, meaningful…books are finished, set aside, and life goes on.

This is one of the radically few books that I will never leave. I do not, as a firm personal rule, reread books. There are too many new ones I want to experience to dwell on repeats.

I will reread this book – again and again and again…

There’s my little introduction, so here is the blurb for the novel (Amazon): Gripping and provocative, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a haunting story of fame, love, and legacy told through the propulsive rise of an iconoclastic artist. Sophie Stark begins her filmmaking career by creating a documentary about her obsession, Daniel, a college basketball star. But when she becomes too invasive, she finds herself the victim of a cruel retribution. The humiliation doesn’t stop her. Visionary and unapologetic, Sophie begins to use stories from the lives of those around her to create movies, and as she gains critical recognition and acclaim, she risks betraying the one she loves most. Told in a chorus of voices belonging to those who knew Sophie best, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is an intimate portrait of an elusive woman whose monumental talent and relentless pursuit of truth reveal the cost of producing great art. It is “not only a dissection of genius and the havoc it can wreak, but also a thunderously good story” (Emma Donoghue).

Perhaps I’ve never encountered a figure in literature that I like more than Sophie Stark. I think I’d fallen entirely in love with her by the middle of the second chapter…rounding out the strong affinity I felt just a few pages in. Funny enough, you never actually meet Sophie personally, rather you meet her through the remembrances of people who knew her.

There are many things I could mention about this book…but honestly, most of those things come as afterthoughts (though they are what created the main thought). North is a wonderful writer on every level. She writes with atmosphere. You don’t simply read this novel – it becomes the place where your dreams and fears and everything you are comes to life. It’s so refreshing to read a different kind of book – original story, lovely writing, interesting perspective, captivating story telling. But those are the words of a ‘normal’ book review, yet this is no normal book.

The central point of it all is not North’s lovely writing or style or story…the novel is brilliant solely because of Sophie Stark. I know there are some who think it’s rather ridiculous to speak of a fictional character as though they were an actual person…and I know it took the astonishing vision of North to make this novel and this person a reality. But Sophie takes on a life all her own, apart from everything else…and she makes this book one of the singular moments in publishing in 2015.

The great achievement here is simple, in a way – North creates Sophie, and lets her live. She’s not analyzed, or deconstructed, or understood. Sophie simply lives. And through her life, she changes ours.

Read this book. Everyone. I plead with you all. Read this book.

Pre-order now – available May 19, 2015

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