The Life and Death of Sophie Stark begins with an anecdote from Allison, actress and Sophie’s on/off girlfriend. It’s an anecdote about the evening she meets Sophie at a storytelling series. There she tells a story about her only high school friend who was murdered. Sophie approaches Allison and challenges her as to the truthfulness of her tale.
Sophie’s right but when she tells Allison she wants her to be in one of her movies, Allison thinks she’s fucking with her.
‘What’s the movie about?’ I asked.
‘It’s about your story,’ she said.
I was flattered, but I was worried again – I figured no real director makes a movie after hearing a ten-minute lie from someone she’s never met. And practically speaking, that meant she probably didn’t even have a script yet. Maybe this was all a joke, a way to fuck with me by making me think I was important.
‘That doesn’t make any sense,’ I said. ‘That’s not how people make movies.’
She shrugged. ‘It’s how I do,’ she said. ‘Movies are how I get to know people.’
In The Life and Death of Sophie Stark the reader gets to know people through the stories they tell about Sophie and their relationship with her. We hear from her brother Robbie; Jacob, a guy in a band whose music video she directed; Daniel, the subject of her first film, and George whose production company owns the rights to Isabella, Sophie’s only big budget Hollywood production. At the end of each chapter there’s a review of whichever of Sophie’s films has been discussed in that section. They’re all written by the same critic, R.Benjamin Martin, charting his own journey from college newspaper to film critic for the New York Star.
The novel’s a smart piece of metafiction, constantly self-referential, in which North questions the reality or truth of people’s stories, both that of how they see themselves and how they see Sophie. The former is brought into question most significantly in Daniel’s story by the disparity between his sense of self and behaviour and the Daniel Sophie captures on film. As to the later, each different version of Sophie highlights how multi-faceted people are and how you can’t know someone in their entirety, indeed it’s much more likely that you’ll only know a small part of who they are.
It’s also an examination of fame and how a particular type and level of fame generates its own myths. It suggests that these are damaging for the individual at the centre of them, struggling to manage other people’s sense of them.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark was published in the US last year and as an ebook in the UK. My copy arrived garlanded with encomiums (sorry, whoever was at the helm of the William Heinemann Twitter account yesterday afternoon taught me that word and I was determined to get it in here) from writers, websites, bloggers and US reviewers. It’s easy to see why: this is a multi-layered novel, capable of being read and understood on several levels.
Thanks to Weidenfeld & Nicholson for the review copy.