I’ve just finished Anna North’s The Life and Death of Sophie Stark*, and it’s fantastic.
The novel recounts filmmaker Sophie’s life from different perspectives – Allison, her college actress girlfriend; Robbie, her brother; musician Jacob, her husband; Daniel, the subject of her first film; George, a Hollywood filmmaker; and film journalist Benjamin Martin.
Sophie is an outsider, and the sense of that is heightened by the fact that we never really see her as she is; she’s diluted, or enhanced, by others’ impressions of her. She stands entirely alone, and as the novel progresses, the idea of her as a lonely genius becomes more striking. Early on, she is different, weird, talented; by the novel’s climax, her talent has pushed her so far away from everyone that no one feels that they know her at all, even those who love her the most. The style of narration is clever, and fits the story perfectly; Sophie doesn’t really give anything of herself to those closest to her, so why should she to the reader? Instead, she gives glimpses of herself in interpretations of her arty films. At one point, she refers to them as translations for other people to watch and translate into feelings, but they’re also a translation of herself and her own feelings, which she cannot – or does not – put into words.
I did read this really quickly, and there are definitely parts that are stronger than others – the review/column parts stood out far less for me than Robbie or Jacob’s chapters, but by the end, they do all fit together, as Sophie apparently knew they would.
I can see why there are comparisons to Jennifer Egan (and I think having seen the comparisons, I did read Sophie Stark with A Visit from the Goon Squad in the back of my mind), but I’m less sure of the Karen Joy Fowler and Maria Semple comparisons. I think, if you like Goon Squad, you’ll probably enjoy this, but I do think that it is good enough to stand on its own pretty sufficiently, without the comparisons. I just gave it five stars on Goodreads, which doesn’t happen often (although I’m having a pretty good run at the moment!)!
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is out in the U.S. already, and will be out in the UK in February 2016. Put it in your diary, this is a good one.