Review: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

the girl you left behind

From the cover:

France, 1916:  Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and a battle begins over its troubled history. Was the painting looted during the war? Who is to pay retribution? And who is the true owner now? As the layers of the painting’s dark secrets are revealed, Liv’s life is turned upside down all over again. And her belief in what is right is put the the ultimate test . . .

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First of all, have you read Jojo Moyes’s previous book ME BEFORE YOU? If not, go pick it up now. Or order it along with this one. Make it a bookish double feature. Done? Okay. Moving on.

THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND is nothing like ME BEFORE YOU. I would have never guessed that they were written by the same person. And that’s perfectly okay. I read an advance digital copy without any book jacket description—at one point, I double-checked that I downloaded the right book.

The opening tale of strong, young Sophie hiding a pig from the German Kommandant in 1916 occupied France drew me in even though it was nothing like I expected. Both Sophie’s husband, Edouard, an artist who studied under Matisse, and her sister’s spouse are off fighting the war. Their once grand family-owned hotel has been pillaged and fallen into disrepair, as has the rest of the small town, and residents scrape by with barely enough to fend off hunger pains. When the Kommandant declares that his men shall eat at the hotel’s bar, the townsfolk begin to titter. When he looks lustfully at Edouard’s painting of Sophie, we know major complications will arise.

Since I’m a sucker for light historical fiction, I was riveted by Sophie’s WWI tale. About a third of the way through the book, the plot flashes forward almost a century, and I once again checked that I was reading the same novel. (Proving I should have read the book jacket.)

Suddenly, we meet Liv Halston, a young widow living in a breathtaking London flat her late husband designed. She hasn’t recovered from his death and is up to the ceiling in debt. After Sophie’s WWI struggle to survive, Liv’s misery of enduring dinner parties seems slightly shallow.  But when she meets former NYPD cop Paul after a drunken purse-snatching episode, she opens up. At a rather unfortunate moment in their blooming relationship, Paul spies the painting The Girl You Left Behind on Liv’s bedroom wall. Paul is really an investigator, specializing in the restitution of lost art and the spoils of war. And he’s been looking for that painting.

The story shifts again, this time to a light courtroom drama. Will Liv be forced to give up the painting, which she clings to not for it’s worth, but for sentimental value? Who really owns the painting, and how did it end up as trash on a Spainsh street? And whatever happened to dear Sophie all those years ago?

You’ll have to read it and find out for yourself.

THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND is the She Reads October book club selection. Visit SheRead.org all month long to find out more about the story, read about bestselling author JoJo Moyes, and have a chance to win one of three copies of THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND.

 

The Girl You Left Behind
by Jojo Moyes
Pamela Dorman Books (August 20, 2013)
384 pages

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