Six reasons why you should read The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
Six Sophie Starks, yet still an enigma
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark resembles a trial, or an inquest, where each witness lays out their testimony. We read six versions of Sophie Stark through the filter, or lens, of six of the people who knew her best, all of whom have reasons to feel betrayed by her. Stark does not speak for herself, she exists only in the memories of others. While we are aware that these biased accounts misrepresent Stark (much like Starks own films are said to misrepresent their subjects) and illustrate the point that we can never know someone fully, they nonetheless make for completely engrossing reading.
A shard of ice in the heart
Sophie Stark was someone who lived for her art, and like the Graham Greene quote, she certainly seems to have a shard of ice in her heart. She was ambitious, uncompromising and, arguably, unscrupulous. As Emma Donoghue, author of Room, notes, the novel is “a dissection of genius and the havoc it can wreak”. Sophie Stark has a talent for story-telling, an extraordinary talent, and her films are huge successes – but, the novel asks, does greatness grant an artist the right to act with impunity? Stark abuses her position time and time again, lies, betrays… and yet, she is exceptional. You will find yourself falling for her, whilst condemning her behaviour – which is a heady mix.
A deliciously flawed, extraordinary female character
It is rare that we find a female character in fiction who is gifted and brilliant, while at the same timed a complicated and at times immoral person. There are countless male characters of this type, but sadly, it is rare to find such an authentic mixture of the admirable and the despicable in a fictional woman. As Lucy Scholes says in the Independent “rarely do we see the woman genius depicted in all her ferocious glory like this”. Sophie Stark is a little like Frank Underwood from House of Cards (Frank Urquhart in the novels), you love to watch her get what it is she wants, yet find it hard to reconcile this with the means she chose to get it.
“A thunderously good story”
As Emma Donoghue also notes, this book is a page-turner extraordinaire. It all sounds nebulous, this oddball director that never gets to speak, but really it is a mesmerising read; you become so quickly lost in the varied accounts of a woman who clearly had such an intense effect on everyone she met, you become charmed and fascinated in equal measure. You will be hooked from the off – and will follow the career and the deceptions of Sophie Stark avidly and rapturously to the very end.
Access to the movie-making world
From Sunset Boulevard to They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, any artistic slice of the film making world in all its glory and its darkness makes for captivating viewing/reading. This book is no different. As well as being a portrait of a mysterious film-maker, it allows us access, voyeuristically, behind-the-scenes of the movie business. We meet the characters who lose, because they are too trusting, and the ones who win, often because they are too busy winning to do the right thing. Film making is a cut-throat world – and this is exactly why we cannot get enough of it.
More head-spin that hip
I tread carefully with this point, but some books are very ‘hip’ and, ultimately rather weightless - The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is not one of those novels. Do not be put off by the endorsements from certain people – yes, it will become very cool to say you have read this book, but that doesn’t take away from the fact it is haunting, intelligent and full of wonderful ambiguity. This really is one of those rare novels that shakes you up, puts you into a head-spin, and brings you crashing back to earth with a shattering ending. You just have to read it for yourself.