Saturday, June 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Life and Death of Sophie Stark" by Anna North

"I thought making movies would make me more like other people. But sometimes I think it just makes me even more like me."

Anna North's fascinating, thought-provoking The Life and Death of Sophie Stark looks at the rise and ultimate fall (no surprise, given the book's title) of a young film director whose work causes people to marvel even while they're feeling unsettled or uncomfortable, told by a chorus of the people who perhaps knew her best.

Sophie Stark gets her start when she decides to film a documentary about a college basketball player she has a crush on. Her near-obsession with Daniel puts her younger brother on edge, as he is a student at the same college and only wants to be popular and meet girls. It also makes her more than her share of enemies. But her single-handed pursuit of her craft, even as it comes at great personal sacrifice, characterizes her style, and starts catching the eye of the film community, noting that she is a talent to watch.

As Sophie's career blossoms, she connects with people whose stories intrigue her, and she uses those stories to make her films. She is dogged in her vision and knows exactly what truths she wants to convey in each film, even as she alienates those closest to her. She wants to succeed and will not compromise her vision to do so, and she recognizes that success might take an emotional toll, but she appears all too willing to take those risks and move on.

Is Sophie a true artist, or is she simply a troubled, emotionally distant person willing to sacrifice those who care about her for the sake of her art? Does she recognize that she hurts or offends people, and if she does, does she care?

"I used to think I was special and that was why I seemed to fuck everything up all the time. But now I know it's just because I'm not a very good person."

Sophie Stark is one of the most fascinating characters I've come across in at least the last several years. At times she is utterly unlikeable, almost asocial, but you have to admire her drive to succeed and her passion for her craft. You also can't help but wonder whether the emotional connections she forges are legitimate or if she is simply using them to advance her career.

A number of my Goodreads friends absolutely raved about this book. While I was reading it, I honestly wasn't sure what to make of it because Anna North kept me guessing at where she'd take Sophie and the plot. North is a tremendously talented writer, as it takes skill to keep you intrigued by an unsympathetic character. But as someone who loves movies and those who make them, this book really resonated with me. Pick this one up.

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