Wendy's Reviews > Sophie's Choice

Sophie's Choice by William Styron
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Jul 16, 12

bookshelves: vcfa-reading, national-book-award, world-war-ii, literary-fiction, banned-books, liked-the-movie, twisted-love
Recommended to Wendy by: friends who were shocked that I had never even seen the movie, nevermind read the book
Read from May 04 to 18, 2012, read count: 1

My love/hate relationship with this book is almost as violent as the one between Sophie and Nathan, the on-again-off-again lovers who first make themselves known to narrator Stingo by their noisy marathon love-making sessions in the apartment upstairs, followed by the equally noisy altercation which should have prompted someone--anyone!--to call the police. In my case, I think love for this book has won out, but I'll cease drawing parallels here so as not to ruin the story for you. I think this was the fastest I've ever read a 600 page book!

It seemed that everyone except me had either seen the movie or was aware of the general plot of this novel already, but I went in with only the vaguest notion that this was some sort of holocaust story (it took me ages just to build up the courage to pick it up). And yes, it is a holocaust story, but that's only a small part of it. It seems that within the last 15 years or so holocaust novels have become a sort of genre on their own (I'm thinking Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy, to name some of the more recent ones I've come across), usually some sort of family saga about good people facing down pure evil. I don't need to tell you that they are all without exception horribly depressing. Sophie's Choice, by contrast, while it IS undeniably tragic, doesn't fit neatly into this genre mold. How easy would it have been for William Styron to have made Sophie an innocent victim coming to terms with her past? But she is far from innocent, and this gives the book a layer of depth that these other novels don't have. Sophie found herself caught in the holocaust's net, but she was not Jewish and might have easily, but for one tiny slip, have ended up on the *other* side--and in fact she tries several times to get back to that other side if just to save herself. Her post-war beau IS Jewish, an intelligent, seemingly wealthy, highly volititle New Yorker with problems of his own, and Sophie's relationship with him is so horribly wrong on all levels it's impossible to look away. Even the infamous death camp Kommandant Rudolph Hoess has a significant cameo in this book--one of the best and most bizarrely humanizing portrayals of the Evil Nazi I've read. He's so satisfyingly subdued and "normal" in person, that if you blink you might miss the subtle clues suggesting it might all be a self-preserving front he puts on.

So, I seemed to love all this...what did I hate? Stingo our humble narrator, mostly, though not right away. In fact, Stingo brings a lot of much-needed humor, especially in the beginning when he is writing snarky reviews of rejected books for a publisher. But gradually he becomes more and more insufferable. His frequent nausea-inducing love affairs (make that would-be, non-existent love affairs), along with his cocky assumptions that I, the captive reader, yearn to hear more of his rambling, self-important asides made me just want him bring back Sophie. Tell me about her, not you, yourself and you. Her story is the important, engaging one, and I found the narrator's need to insert himself into the story (and his attempts to do the same to...err...her) unnecessary and distracting, though I gather that much of Stingo's character, right down to the title and subject matter of the character's novel-in-progress, suggest that author Styron is more or less really writing about himself. No wonder Styron's daughter later remembered fielding phone calls for her father from foreign-sounding women claiming to be the Real Sophie.

Overall, this was a long (too long!) book that I flew through anyway at a furious rate. Styron is an excellent writer. I just wish he didn't think so himself.
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Reading Progress

05/07/2012 page 162
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Judy (new)

Judy I like your review because it is honest. I don't feel the way you do about Styron. I think he is an amazing writer. I have read Sophie's Choice twice. The first time, I was depressed for weeks after. The second time I was older, and I could get into the conflicts that make up Sophie, as you mention. For some reason, I relate to her as a character more than most characters I find in books. That to me is Styron's gift: he gets it how conflicted most human beings are. I guess he certainly was.


Wendy Judy wrote: "I like your review because it is honest. I don't feel the way you do about Styron. I think he is an amazing writer. I have read Sophie's Choice twice. The first time, I was depressed for weeks afte..."

Judy, thanks for the comment. This was a tough book for me to review and like you said, I'm sure the time/place/age in which one reads a book can define how any book effects us. I'm definitely holding onto this one so I can read it again someday--and perhaps have a completely different experience. I think part of the reason Styron/Stingo rubbed me the wrong way is because I read this back-to-back with several Kafka stories. Kafka as a writer has such a different, violently humble, even self-deprecating shade to his writing--he's a brilliant writer who thinks he's a talentless hack--and I'm convinced that just the juxtapositioning of the two writers in my reading queue influenced my gut reaction to Stingo :)


message 3: by Judy (new)

Judy Yes Wendy, I agree about the juxtapositioning of two writers. Timing is everything. It has happened to me many times.


message 4: by Judy (new)

Judy Yes Wendy, I agree about the juxtapositioning of two writers. Timing is everything. It has happened to me many times.


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