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3.5 6
by Guy Burt

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“[Sophie] combines the creepy narrative power of a young William Golding with the disturbingly accurate memory of what it is like to be a child. . . . So good that one can only wonder what [Burt] will do next.”
—The Times (London)

In a dark room of a dilapidated house, as a storm rages outside, Matthew lights a candle and places it in the


“[Sophie] combines the creepy narrative power of a young William Golding with the disturbingly accurate memory of what it is like to be a child. . . . So good that one can only wonder what [Burt] will do next.”
—The Times (London)

In a dark room of a dilapidated house, as a storm rages outside, Matthew lights a candle and places it in the center of the floor. Its light spreads across the wall and illuminates Sophie, tied up in a chair facing him. She is frightened, fearful of what he might do next. But for now, it seems, all Matthew wants to do is talk. Talk about the events of nearly twenty years ago, about their strange childhood, and about the summer when Sophie grew up and everything changed . . . forever.

Young Mattie and Sophie lived in a world seemingly without constraints. Their cold mother barely paid attention to her children. Their father, a mere shadow in their lives, was never home. So Mattie and Sophie had the run of the gardens and the woods beyond. They played youthful games, but Sophie was extraordinarily intelligent, a fact she took great pains to hide from her teachers, so as not to stand out. Sophie was everything to Mattie, and he worshiped her. He wanted to know her secrets, the things that went on inside her brilliant mind. But Sophie was changing. And the summer before she went away to boarding school, the things she had worked so hard to conceal would come spilling out—and Mattie would have to live with the shocking consequences.

Now he’s all grown up, too, and Matthew wants answers to the questions that still darken his mind—no matter what the cost. . . .

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Haunting, enigmatic and suspenseful, Burt's second novel (after The Hole) is a tightly woven tale of psychological horror, in which two children shape and destroy their small world. Sophie and Matthew live in a large house in rural England with a distant, mentally ill mother and a father who comes and goes. The remoteness of both of their caretakers allows the children complete freedom to fill their days as they wish, usually with long rambling walks in the woods, digging in the nearby abandoned quarry and exploring abandoned farms. Sophie's extraordinary brilliance means she can easily manipulate the adults in her life-at school, on tests and at home. Over the course of six years-from the time Sophie is seven and Mattie five-Burt tantalizes the reader with unsettling glimpses of Sophie's cunning, disturbing plans and shows how Mattie follows Sophie's lead with the love and admiration of a younger sibling. Narrated in part by an adult Sophie and Mattie 20 years later, the novel cleverly shifts perspective more than once, leading up to an explosive series of final twists. Mattie is forced to see Sophie for who she was as a child and himself for the adult he has become. At the dark denouement, the reader will be tempted to start the book over again to see just how Burt wrought this ingenious tale. (July) Forecast: Prolific as well as precocious, Burt wrote The Hole at 18 and Sophie at 19. Fans of William Golding and J.G. Ballard might profitably be steered to his novels. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A suspenseful atmosphere of dread and mystery propels Burt's disturbing and often confusing psychological thriller. As the story opens, a young woman called Sophie is being held prisoner by her younger brother, Matthew, in their childhood home. As children, Sophie and Matthew were inseparable. Brilliant Sophie cared for Matthew and protected him from their distant and cruel mother, but now, Matthew is distraught and dangerous. He desperately seeks answers to the questions raised by the traumas of their childhood. Who was Ol' Grady, who terrorized Matthew's dreams, and how did Sophie put a stop to him? What strange power did Sophie have over their mother? What really happened to their younger brother, who died as an infant? The narrative alternates between present-day Sophie's first-person account of her captivity and Matthew's recollections of their childhood. Once hooked, readers will want to rush to the end to discover Matthew's and Sophie's secrets. Although the ending is full of shocking revelations, the plot unfortunately is ultimately unclear and frustrating. As long as they are up for a bleak and at times harrowing read, mature teens looking for a creepy tale of psychological horror will appreciate this gripping and original story. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003 (orig. 1994), Ballantine, 218p., Trade pb. Ages 15 to Adult.
—Amy Luedtke
Library Journal
Burt's first novel, The Hole, published when he was 18, delved into the emotional lives of five teens trapped together for days. In Sophie, he embarks on a similar exploration with sibling protagonists who are trapped in a relationship as claustrophobic as it is protective and loving. As the book opens, an adult Mattie is holding Sophie captive. Incapable of moving on with his life, Mattie needs Sophie to listen as he attempts to piece together and understand the life-altering events of their childhood. Because Sophie is two years older, all Mattie's memories are of their lives in tandem. From as far back as he can remember, Sophie was there, guiding, protecting, and controlling him. In a spare and subtle style, Burt ratchets up the suspense, already inherent in Sophie's immediate danger, with a dreamlike narration that takes the reader deeper into Mattie's tainted and troubling childhood. This psychological thriller is recommended for most public libraries.-Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From the British author of The Hole (2001): a first US appearance of a slim, taut, creepy psychological thriller, written when Burt was 19. Mattie is five and his sister Sophie seven in Mattie’s earliest memories of their gothic English country-house childhood, at first somewhat normal in the telling, but not enough to hide the fact that something--or everything--is just not right. We see the young Sophie through Mattie’s eyes as he recounts key details from their closed and obsessively secretive world. And we see Mattie, in the present, through the eyes of the novel’s narrator as, one night some twenty years later, he struggles to address those memories. Mattie has brought "Sophie" to the now-abandoned house in which he grew up; tied up and helpless, she tries to understand the adult Mattie as he speaks, looking for any clue that might help her. Their mother was a shadowy presence occasionally erupting in towering anger, their father almost completely absent, though he does show up to impregnate his wife: the new little brother doesn’t last long. Sophie, frighteningly intelligent, has an unexplained hold over their mother, who seems to fear her; and that fear is somehow related to Mattie’s nightmares of a terrifying figure, Ol’ Grady, creeping into his room at night and of Sophie’s protecting them. Sophie works hard to conceal her intelligence from her teachers, but the other kids know she’s not like them. When two boys make the mistake of getting into a schoolyard scuffle with Mattie, Sophie displays an almost inhuman efficiency in getting rid of them. As Mattie’s memories approach the day when 13-year-old Sophie is to go off to boarding school and leave Mattie alone with their mother,the identity of the monster in the family becomes less clear, and his captive realizes she’s not the first "Sophie" to hear the story. Slight and obliquely told, but dense with atmospherics and creeping dread.

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Read an Excerpt


Matthew sits across from me on the boards of the empty room. His eyes are not on me at the moment. The side of my face hurts where he hit me. Outside, the sounds of the storm are loud; he keeps glancing at the windows as the plywood nailed up over them shudders and grates. We are in the kitchen of the old house. Shadows from the guttering candle flame dance and flare in the corners of the room, while the garden is torn and swept by the wind. The passages upstairs crick and murmur, as if they were alive with the walking memories of years.

I am breathing more calmly now. I am finding out where the boundaries are, beginning to know what rules we are following. He seems nervous, fidgety. I raise my hands awkwardly to rub the hair away from my face, and he sees the movement, turns his head.

“I’m sorry,” he says. I don’t know how to reply, so I say nothing.

He says, “Sophie? I’m sorry I hit you. I don’t want to hurt you. But we have to stop the—you know, all the lies. We’re past that now. No more games. All right?”

I nod, and he seems to relax a little. There is a splintering shriek as a branch pulls away from one of the trees outside, but he doesn’t give any indication of having heard.

“There should be other things here,” he says. “It feels like things are missing.” I have no idea what he is talking about, but I nod anyway; it has become the easiest thing to do. I have no idea where this is leading, either. I shift my back against the wall, try to focus on the restless flame of the candle.

There is heavy tape around my wrists, but my ankles are free, and I have drawn up my legs so I can rest my arms on them. I am very afraid. He seems unsure of what to do next.

“The important things stay the same,” he says.


“Everything’s changed. The house, the garden, the room. Everything’s different.” He sighs. “The important things stay the same, though. You. Me. You know.” He smiles, and his face softens a little. He looks away.

When Sophie and I were young, our garden was large, stretching away from the side of the house, lined with flowerbeds and tall hedges. When the time of year was right, there were climbing roses and honeysuckle on the trellises. The ground was carved away in one place by a stream, and there were two wooden bridges over the water, leading to a muddy patch of land that had once been an orchard. Now, with only one or two of the original trees remaining, it was a place where the gardener made bonfires, and where the toolshed was. Crossing the stream, then, was to wrinkle your nose at the smell of old bonfire ash made wet. You had to step carefully on the soft ground.

From the house, there was only a small part of the garden which could easily be seen. Even from my bedroom, which was high up, there were places where the bushes and trees screened off the view. Because of this, and because there was so little for us to do in the house itself, Sophie and I made the garden our own. Our father was such a shadowy figure, and seen so rarely that he hardly impinged on our lives, while Mummy occupied the rooms on the ground floor of the house. She moved between drawing room and kitchen intermittently, going about her unfathomable business with a kind of measured precision that was both rather daunting and strangely reassuring. We knew where she would be, this way, and were able to judge our own movements to avoid her. At the time I am thinking of, I was five and Sophie was seven.

“This is going to be frogs,” she said.


“This is. This will be frogs. You know about tadpoles, don’t you, Mattie?”


“That’s frog spawn. First there’s frog spawn, and then that turns into tadpoles. Then they turn into frogs. So this is going to be frogs.” She touched a hemisphere of spawn that had protruded slightly from the surface of the water. “Isn’t that strange?”

“I don’t know. How do you know about frogs, Sophie?”

“I read it in a book. Isn’t it strange, though? These little dots, they’re going to become frogs one day.” She stood up, abruptly tired of the conversation. “You could take some to school in a jar.”

The gardener himself was a very tall, very thin man. His eyes were deeply sunk into the front of his head and he, rather like my mother, had his own pattern of movement. He spent the greater part of his time tending the garden where it adjoined the house, the beds near the driveway, the edge of the lawns. To keep the whole garden suitably trimmed and mown and pruned and weeded would not have been an impossible task, I think; but the tall and silent gardener, in his heavy green coat and heavy brown trousers, was a lazy man. The farther back into the garden you went, the greater was the state of disrepair and decay. The day that we knelt by the stream and looked at the frog spawn, there was frost on the grass and, a few days earlier, the water in the furrows and puddles in the orchard had been crisply rimmed with ice.

Spring came grudgingly that year. There were late frosts for a long time, although no snow fell. The heating in my classroom at school had to be supplemented with a monstrous oil-filled convection heater. Its grimy beige paint was scabbed through in places, and it looked dangerously industrial among the drawings and the “Letters of the Alphabet” sequence pinned to the wall, as if it had the potential to do damage. I did take some of the frog spawn to school with me, just as Sophie had said. We put it carefully in a plastic aquarium on the nature-table. Almost all of it hatched out, and for weeks there were tadpoles to be seen in various stages of their development, before they became tiny frogs and had to be let go. Mrs. Colley was in charge of the junior school; she came into our classroom and was pleased by the tadpoles.

“Where did these come from, then?” she asked.

“Matthew brought them in, didn’t you, Matthew?” Mrs. Jeffries replied.

“They come from frogs,” I said. “The frogs lay the eggs, which is frog spawn. And then that turns into tadpoles and they turn into frogs. And it happens all over again.”

“That’s very good,” Mrs. Colley said. “How did you find that out?”

“Sophie told me,” I said. “She read it in a book.”

“That’s very good, dear,” Mrs. Colley repeated absently.

The banks of the stream were freckled with the inch-long frogs for a time, and then they were gone. The gardener took dead branches and the fallen leaves of the winter, and piled them high in the corner of the orchard. The cold weather and the rain had got into the bonfire, though, and it would not burn. The gardener walked away to his shed and returned after a time with a dusty grey can. He poured diesel over the heap, and set it alight. I expected the diesel to flare out and explode, but it didn’t; rather, it burned steadily, with a strong smell. I watched as the gardener went back to his shed. He saw me looking, and an expression that was something like curiosity twitched in his face before he turned away. I ran off through the dead garden, looking for sticks.

Behind the wall at the far end of the garden stretched fields. They didn’t belong to us, but to a farmer whose house and buildings were out of sight over a curve in the land. There was a scattering of trees that grew denser towards the top of a low hill. If you followed the trees, you found yourself walking along the boundary between two fields, where in summer the crick-ets buzzed and whirred around your ankles as you walked. Just over the skyline, the trees thickened briefly before the ground dropped away into an abandoned quarry. In the shattered rocks at the foot of the quarry walls there were little twisted shells and patterns in the stone. Again, like the garden, the quarry was a place where no one else came, and so Sophie and I went there often when the weather was warm.

March sunlight cut in sharp angles across the classroom.

“All right, children,” Mrs. Jeffries said. “Put your maths books away and get changed for games. Susan, will you collect up the rods for me? Thank you. Matthew, if you find your reading book, you can sit and read until tea.”

The rest of the class trotted happily out into the exhilarating air of the playground.

Throughout childhood, the muddled clutter that clumps itself around most children seemed to have eluded me. It happened not in some clearly defined manner, but instead there were a multitude of smaller things which conspired to keep a small, but noticeable, gap between me and my peers. Some children are afflicted by prodigious intellect, or comical obtuseness, or a remarkable ability or inability at art or sport. Mattie Howard, though, was never really any of these. Instead, I simply found that while I was accepted readily enough at school—even despite not being able to join in games lessons—I nevertheless sloughed off all the trappings of school as soon as I ran out through the gates at the end of the day. It was not, I think, my decision; nor the decision of my friends in class. At that age, a structure of politics exists among parents from which my mother was almost universally excluded. And so, where another child might have been setting off for a friend’s house, or to a birthday party, Sophie and I were instead quite content to shout our good-byes and walk home together. For me, this was simply the way of things. The walk home was a fair length, and if there was no reason to hurry we might talk about what we had done that day, or what we had planned for the weekend or the evening. My five-year-old’s achievements were trivial enough, but Sophie would have learnt astonishing and wonderful things; and these she told me, interspersed with her own questions and conjectures on whatever subject she had chosen. And again, this was simply the way of things.

One evening, after we had washed and done our teeth, Sophie wandered into my room and sat down on the end of the bed.



She frowned. “What do you know about babies?”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Guy Burt wrote his first novel, After the Hole (now filmed as The Hole) when he was still at school, and his second, Sophie, soon afterwards. They are both published by Black Swan, as is his third novel, The Dandelion Clock. After gaining a first in English at Oxford, he taught for three years at Eton. He now lives in London, where he is working both on a new novel and on several drama commissions for cinema and television. His first play for television, The Visitor, was recently shown on Channel 4.

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Sophie 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was interesting, but it was kinda confusing for me. It was hard to understand some of the things since it didn't give all that much information. I figured out some of it though. The ending is what confused me most though. I thought I knew what was going on, then I was totally lost. It was a ok book, but I don't think its for everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought it was a good book but if you don't like weird things then you probably shouldn't read it. The only bad part about it is that some of the things you have to figure out yourself are a little too hard to figure out because of how little information is given. But it's still interesting. I recommend at least giving it a try. Again, not meant for everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Okay this book was written well and i loved how there were twists and turns in every chapter!.. I understand the story pretty much up until the last few chapters...like others, i was waiting til the end so i could get my questions answered, but I am still left confused...? I reread the last couple of chapters many times and still dont get it. can ANYONE please let me know what the ending means, this is bugging me so much
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book. It took me a while to get into it but so well worth it. It will blow you away.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked it- was very interesting and I couldn't put it down. It was really frusterating, however, because I couldn't figure it out either, and I also know I'm not an idiot. Some of the events I was able to piece together, but the ending didn't answer many of my questions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I consider myself to be pretty perceptive and yet by the end of this book, I was no more clued into what happened than I'd been on page one. I tore through the pages looking for the conclusion, and with it, an explanation for what really upset Matthew about Sophie. That much I was able to deduce, but as for the final part, what happened? I would not recommend this book. Bizarre and not all that entertaining.