Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes (website | twitter)
Pub. Date: August 20, 2013
Source: Pitched by the publicist; Hardcover
Summary: In 1916 French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything – her family, reputation and life – in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.
Nearly a century later and Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting’s dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened…
Genre: Adult, Fiction
I keep reading your looping, cursive script, until the words are indelible inside me: “I never knew real happiness until you.”
In 370 pages Jojo Moyes managed to elicit every possible emotion from me: I laughed and smiled at the character’s moments of happiness, I wept right along with them, I raged at the brutality of others, and lost all hope during certain scenes. The Girl You Left Behind consumed me and brought these characters to life. While the characters are fiction, the events were all too real and the trial was something I could easily picture hearing about in the news today.
Split between war-torn France during World War I and modern-day London, The Girl You Left Behind tells the tale of a painting and the lives of the people inadvertently connected to it and, ultimately, to each other. Sophie Lefevre and her sister operate a hotel/restaurant/bar in their town, though supplies – and money – are dwindling. Through the bleakness Sophie tries to remain positive: rather than counting the days since she last saw her husband, she thinks of each passing day as bringing her one day closer to their reunion. One day the war will be over and her beloved Edouard will return to her. Until that wonderful day, she’ll continue carrying on and taking care of business.
The day the Germans occupied the town changed Sophie’s life forever. Everyone had something taken from them – blankets, dishes, food – and Sophie’s family was no exception. In their case, the soldiers and the Kommandant, set up house in the hotel and give Sophie orders to cook for them. Food will be provided and each night Sophie and her sister will prepare a delicious feast. As though the looks from the townsfolk weren’t horrible enough, the Kommandant‘s deepening interest in Sophie (and the portrait of her Edouard painted) tests her strengths and shows how far she’s willing to go to see her husband again.
Nearly a century later, Liv is living in London and trying to get past the sudden death of her husband. The house he built now feels far too big and rather than bring her comfort, it does nothing more than remind Liv that David is no longer with her. The only peace she feels comes from the painting he bought her on their Honeymoon. Since David’s death, the painting has been Liv’s constant companion, but now a lawfirm aimed at returning stolen objects in war to their rightful owners/family sets its sights on Liv’s painting and she won’t give it up without a fight.
Nobody fights you like your own sister; nobody else knows the most vulnerable parts of you and will aim for them without mercy.
The Girl You Left Behind was my first Moyes novel and…wow. Just WOW. Going into it I expected a light-hearted chick-lit read and was immediately floored by the weight of the story. The despair and pain of this small French village comes through crystal clear and their few joyful moments (such as the night they got to eat meat for the first time in months) was both beautiful and heartbreaking. I knew their joy wouldn’t last. Sure enough, the Kommandant came to town and things went from bad to worse.
Having finished the book, I’m hesitant to pass judgment on the Kommandant. There’s no denying he was a terrible, horrible man who did absolutely wretched things. But by the end I saw him in a new light. Perhaps he wasn’t the soulless man I first thought he was. Things were awful for Sophie and she is a far stronger woman than I could ever hope to be. She was judged for things she had no control over and ultimately sent to a camp. All the while she still remained true to herself and firmly believed in the good of mankind.
While I preferred Sophie’s story, Liv’s story was equally compelling. She was widowed at 32 and creditors are all but breaking down the door. She’s struggling to make ends meet and one day she’s told she has to give her painting to some family in France who claims it was stolen 100 years earlier. It’s hard not to feel for her, especially after she finds out that the one man she allowed herself to get close to is the opposing side’s lawyer.
And you know what? I secretly like the idea that you could have a painting so powerful it could shake up a whole marriage.
As the story progresses, Liv begins to research the painting and piece together details of Sophie’s life. She finds herself caring deeply for this woman, not just as a painting, but as a person. A real person. Both the painting and Sophie remain Liv’s rock as the trial goes to court and winds up gaining national – and international – attention. Suddenly reporters are calling at all hours and she can’t walk down the street without being called names – or worse.
I don’t feel it’s spoiling anything by saying there’s a happy ending and I knew it was coming. That said, my expectations were surpassed. The way Moyes handled the ending surprised me – in a good way! The novel’s only issue (and it’s seriously minor) was that initially the dual narrative was a little confusing. At first there are dates/locations provided, but after those first few chapters it simply switches back and forth occasionally and that quick change was jarring. However, I quickly made sense of things and lost myself in the story once more.
As I said in the beginning, The Girl You Left Behind was my first Moyes novel. I’m weeping that I hadn’t picked up one of her books before now and many, many hugs for the publicist to introduce me to this wonderful book. This is one I’ll be recommending to everyone I know and I urge all of you to buy it!
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! One lucky winner will receive their very own copy! This will be a giveaway blitz in that it’ll end tomorrow morning. I’ll announce the winner at 9:00 AM (EST)!