Sophie Cooke


Sophie Cooke
Under the Mountain is a fascinating account of family relationships, young love and honesty.
With a cast of varied and unexpected characters, Cooke reveals herself to be an intelligent
and keen evaluator of individuals and their silent struggle with the outside world.

            ophie Cooke is not a writer; she is an observer of the human story of Catherine, a young girl who is laid-up
            condition. With a degree in anthropology, Cooke’s fascination with illness in a top room of her family’s Victorian
            with human behaviour within a community and in isolation mansion for nearly the entire summer of 1981.
            saturates her work as a contemporary poet and novelist. The A window that looks down onto the garden
            findings from her keen observations of human interaction below is one of the few pacifying reprieves from
            are presented through her relatable characters and plots. her unbearable restlessness as she drifts in and
However, it is Cooke’s ability to be both the creator of a fictional world out of sleep. From this window, she witnesses
and an impartial evaluator of it, which makes her such an important numerous interactions, including clandestine
voice for this age.                                                         meetings and heated arguments between
  Cooke’s fascination with the world around her goes beyond casual her parents, sister, cousins, and aunt. Even from this vantage point as
observation and has always played a significant role in her life. She the silent observer, Catherine’s knowledge of these household events
remarks that even as a child, “my mother said that I was always quiet remains limited since she receives tidbits of information from her sister
and very observant. I was always the one sitting in the corner watching and cousins at second or third-hand. However, one summer day, after
all that was going on.” For Cooke, her devotion to the written word always being the last one to know anything, Catherine becomes the
grew from this first love of studying people, a study she first sought only one who knows the truth when she witnesses a violent act against
to record both in poems and surrealist short stories. She states: “I’ve the beloved family pet. As the only witness, she decides to feign sleep
always been fascinated by human beings, and I like writing because I and ignorance rather than implicate the culprit. As a result, an innocent
have a real interest in the human condition. Originally I wrote poetry, person is blamed, the real villain remains anonymous, and the entire
which is more about the form itself and noticing the tiny details than family feel victimised by the event.
exploring the human truths you are expressing.” Her decision to make          With this second novel, Cooke reveals her strong desire to explore
the plunge into “straight fiction” (as she calls it) came from her desire abstract themes, particularly the difference between “human truth” and
to realistically investigate and analyse the social dynamics and “human “world truth.” According to her, people’s growing disenchantment with
truths” working within the family, or community setting.                    religion has moved them toward a disillusion with objective truth. In
  Cooke’s critically acclaimed first novel, The Glass House, follows a a sincere effort to create a global community, human beings have lost
young girl, recently expelled from boarding school, who returns home the ability to distinguish universally-acknowledged truths. No longer
to her tragically self-destructive mother. Dealing with psychological can a truth held by one individual be assumed as certain for any other.
trauma, complex familial and love relationships, and told in first-person Due to this global loss of objective reality, Cooke suggests that truth
narrative, Cooke details her inspiration: “I wanted to use a narrator who can (or must) be manufactured between people, a collective action
deceives herself about the ugly realities of her life.” This is, of course, she subtly depicts in the novel; and like all manufactured items, the
in order to explore something human beings struggle with more than truth can depreciate. A clarification of this point reveals her interest “in
anything else—the truth. Whether it is the difficulty of being honest the currency of truth and the way it fluctuates. Truth can become more
with others or ourselves, Cooke recognises truth as a universally or less valuable depending when you spend it. Even when you are in
complicated concept that affects even the most nominal facets of our possession of the objective facts, truth does not have a fixed exchange
lives. Thoroughly explored in her second novel, Under the Mountain, one rate with accepted reality. It depends on when you speak it, and where,
particular truth serves to make a major impact in the life of a family.     and how. Sometimes it can prove completely worthless, as the young
  The nonlinear, third-person narrative of Under the Mountain tells the heroine in the novel discovers.”
   In addition to assessing the impact one truth has on multiple lives,    individual and communal reactions to nonsensical acts of violence. By
Cooke also shares her desire to study the varied reaction of each family   changing the normal setting of terrorist acts to a domestic sphere, she
member to what they feel is an act of terrorism against their way of       is able to thoroughly scrutinize the sympathetic, vengeful, resentful,
life. “The attack in Under the Mountain is a terrorist event in miniature; and indifferent sides of affected human beings. With her upcoming
a shocking, seemingly senseless, violent intrusion into the everyday       appearance at the Kikinda Short Story Festival in Serbia (24-29 July),
life of the household. It is not ‘terrorist’ in the true sense, because it Cooke continues to explore the human experience by this time diving
                                                                                                    into Berlin’s surveillance culture in her short
   “I wanted to place a ‘world thing’ like a terrorist attack in a                                  story The Long Watch.
domestic setting, to break the whole thing down so that each of                                       The Kikinda Short Story Festival, in its
the characters represent how a whole society or a whole nation                                       fourth year, celebrates the new works of
responds differently to an act of violence or terrorism. They all                                   Eastern European authors while also inviting
have different responses to it, and, in a way, they stand in for                                    a number of contemporary authors from the
much larger groups of people as a microcosm in the plot.”                                           UK to share their writings as well. The Festival
                                                                                                    brings a diverse community together through
is not committed in order to engender terror; however, because the the arts, creating a tangible record of the festival’s creativity through a
household is unaware of the truth, they interpret it as an illogical published anthology of the participating writers’ short stories. One of
and terrifying act.” Cooke delicately crafts the characters in Under the the chief goals of the Festival is to enable an intercultural exchange
Mountain to not only react realistically within their family dynamic, but of creative works between the nations of Eastern and Western Europe.
to symbolically represent the reactions of various social communities Cooke says that as an author she is proud to be a part of a positive
and exhibit varying reactions to tragedy. “I wanted to place a ‘world movement for the arts that grew out of the many negative conditions
thing’ like a terrorist attack in a domestic setting, to break the whole of the post-war Serbian community.
thing down so that each of the characters represent how a whole              For more information on Sophie Cooke and her new work visit
society or a whole nation responds differently to an act of violence and to hear her share her work at the
or terrorism. They all have different responses to it, and, in a way, they Kikinda Short Story Festival visit
stand in for much larger groups of people as a microcosm in the plot.”
  In Under the Mountain, Cooke uses the universally relatable setting                                                            Jordan Von Cannon
of a household in order to passively observe and subtly dissect the