The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North was one of the most interesting stories I’ve read in long time. It’s a study of an artist that gets so caught up in her art and storytelling that she often chooses art over relationships and it’s told by the other people in these relationships. Each chapter is someone else talking about their time with Sophie, how she changed their life, and how her choices affected those around her.
The writing, character development, and pretty much everything else about and in this book is spectacular but I was particularly drawn to the set up of the story of Sophie Stark. We learn about Sophie by hearing stories from other people. It feels like we are getting an outline of Sophie with lots of background detail and every once in a while one of the narrators adds a splash of color to Sophie’s picture. We end up with a book that’s constantly trying to pinpoint this character and sometimes just when we think we’ve got it another perspective throws in a color that shifts us a little off center.
For me this just demonstrated the fluidity of stories and storytelling. Any story we tell has ripples through other stories and has more tangents than even the storyteller knows. The fact that we give stories a beginning, middle, end, and we decide what we’re going to exclude and what we’re going to focus on doesn’t lessen the influence they have on each other, it just ignores it. If this had been just from Sophie’s perspective it would have been a lesser story. Her struggle between art and relationships would still be there but we’d be too caught up in Sophie’s story to truly recognize the impact she was having on other people. Even when what Sophie created was spectacular and choosing art over her relationship objectively seemed like a good idea, we doubted her decision because we were seeing the narrators hurt and pain.
It was an interesting discussion about how much of ourselves and those around us we put into what we create. Amanda Palmer said in her book The Art of Asking that she puts a little bit of her life and a little bit of creativity into a blender and how much you can recognize of her life in what she creates depends on how low or high the setting is on the blender. I think a lot of artists purposely put that blender setting on high to avoid hurting their loved ones. There are those, however that are so invested in their art that they can’t not be true and honest and put that setting on low. A lot of times what comes of it is beautiful, true, and touching art, but is it worth the potential loss of relationships? Most people say no, some people are lucky enough to have very understanding loved ones in their life, and some people just can’t let themselves care because their art is their life. In The Life and Death of Sophie Stark we see that the creation of something beautiful can cause the destruction of the important relationships that helped create the truth behind the beauty.