The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, by Anna North, tells the story of the eponymous, fictional, film maker. It is told in the form of a series of personal vignettes written by people she was once close to. These are interspersed with increasingly polished reviews of her films written by a critic whose career developed alongside her own. It is a beguiling approach although with dark undertones, demonstrating as it does how little any individual can understand another, even those they may claim to love.
The book opens with the making of Sophie’s second film, as told by Allison on whose life the script is based. Allison becomes Sophie’s lover and, thanks to her part in this low budget film, an actress. Sophie recognised in her traits and skills that others could not see. It was this perceptiveness that gave Sophie’s films the art house edge for which she became known.
The second vignette is written from the point of view of Robbie, Sophie’s brother. From this we learn more of Sophie’s background, how and why she started to make her films. As an outsider in life Sophie used her art to express thoughts and feelings. Her first creation, a documentary about a college basketball player, was stuttered and amateurish yet showed flashes of the talent that would later disturb, enchant and enthrall.
Sophie’s third, more polished, film was also based on a story from a lover’s past, an approach which drew down the ire of her subjects. Sophie accepted the anger and hurt she generated as a necessary sacrifice for her art, despite the fact that it was others who had to pay. As her fame grew so too did her confidence, although much of this turned out to be as big an act as those which she captured on screen.
From the title of the book it is obvious how Sophie’s story will end. By the time the reader gets to this, past further music videos and another full length film, the cause comes as no surprise. The denouement provides a satisfying explanation for the form and layout of the tale.
The writing is thought provoking and poignant offering an unflinching critique of the conceits of the world. The desire to be noticed and admired affects all. Even Sophie, as removed as she was from most everyday experiences, could not avoid the damage she wrought in her quest to be recognised as an artistic success.
An intriguing yet always entertaining read this is a book to be pondered as well as enjoyed. Amongst the food for thought, it tells a cracking story.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.