Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

I really love split time narrative novels when they are done well, and this book certainly qualifies as one of those!

The Girl You Left Behind starts in occupied France during World War I. The main female character, Sophie Lefevre, has withdrawn to a small village with her younger brother, her sister Sophie and Sophie's children to run the local hotel. Their men have gone off to war to fight the German army, leaving their families in what they hope are safe surrounds.

Sophie's husband is a talented artist, friends with some of the big name of the day. One of the few possessions that Sophie has bought to her new home is a painting that he did of her - The Girl You Left Behind.

Together the family runs the hotel, providing a place for the community to gather together in the face of the ongoing German occupation of their village. By working together the villagers can find ways to subvert the German occupiers - often only in small ways but enough to be able to at least keep their spirits up! That begins to change though when the local commandant decides that the hotel needs to be begin providing meals to all the officers. He begins to show Sophie signs of favouritism and it doesn't take long for some in the village to begin to believe the worst of her. It is easy for petty jealousies to take over when you believe that someone else is benefitting and getting more than you when have barely enough to survive on.

Sophie is desperate to find out where her husband Edouard is and she believes that the commandant might be able to help her. There is of course a price to pay. The Commandant has been drawn to the painting of Sophie since he first saw it but will that be a higher price to pay than Sophie is prepared to pay?

The action suddenly moves forward just under a hundred years and to be honest, the adjustment felt very abrupt but it didn't take long before I was once again settled in for the modern story, as well hoping to find more about what happened to Sophie. The painting, The Girl You Left Behind, now belongs to Liv Halston. Just as when Edouard painted Sophie as a gesture of love, for Liv the painting is representative of that same emotion. Her brilliant architect husband David had bought the painting for them during their honeymoon and since his early and unexpected death it had provided her great comfort.

When Liv meets Paul McCafferty she believes that maybe she can start to think about moving on from her grief. Paul is an American ex-policeman living in London, sharing custody of his young son with his ex-wife and working for a company that tries to restore ownership of works of art that were wrongly taken during times of war. In an increasingly lucrative business, the pressure to stay at the top is immense and so when the Lefevre family engage his company to try and recover Edouard's painting he can't believe his luck when he literally stumbles on it by accident.

However, his increasingly tangled emotions quickly become an issue as he realises how attached Liv is to the painting and that she is not going to give it up without a fight. Whilst the painting disappeared during WWI, Liv quickly becomes the target of people who are very active for the rights of those whose art was stolen during WWII particularly from Jewish families. Liv had been struggling financially and that was before she had exorbitant legal bills to pay and has become a figure of derision in the eye of the public. Maybe the sensible solution would be to not fight, but Liv is not prepared to just give up. Liv has to try and find out where the painting has been, starting with the place where David bought the painting and work her way back through history. Along the way, perhaps she can find out more about who the girl in the painting is and perhaps even what happened to her...

Jojo Moyes is a bit like a chameleon in terms of her books. A lot of authors find a niche and then stay there but not Moyes. This is the fourth book I have read by her. The first was set predominantly on a boat full of war brides after the end of WWII (Ship of Brides). The second was both in the late 60s through to modern day (Last Letter from her Lover) with the third being wholly contemporary and tackling a huge social issue (Me Before You).

Australian cover
I have enjoyed all of her books I have read so far, but the last couple especially so. In this book, Moyes skillfully took two stories and wove those threads together to form a compelling story. I found myself turning the pages whilst at the same time wondering how on earth she was possibly going to end both stories. Whilst both stories have the possibility of being kind of morbid, the various secondary characters and various events help to keep the emotions balanced. At times funny and uplifting, and at other times heartbreaking, Moyes takes the reader on a journey that covers both time and the emotional landscape.

The UK cover is kind of deceptive, because at first glance it looks quite whimsical but the elements do actually reflect the story. I am not sure about the Australian cover though. It's nice, but whether it would have caught my eye if I hadn't been absolutely excited by the prospect of a new book from Moyes is a different question!

I should mention that there is also a connected novella that is available on e-book only called Honeymoon in Paris which is a prequel to the action in this novel. I haven't read it, but I will, despite being a little cynical about the marketing driven reason for doing this. Then again, there are plenty of publishers that are going down this track of added extras!

Rating 4/5

Synopsis

What happened to the girl you left behind?

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...

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most - whatever the cost.


Challenges

I read this book for the following challenges


Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the e-ARC and Lisa from ANZ Litlovers for the paper copy of this book. This review has been cross-posted at ANZ Litlovers

15 comments:

  1. Wonderful review, Marg. I've never read any of JoJo Meyes books, but do have Last Letter From Your Lover on my tbr pile. I think I'll have to add this one to my tbr pile, too.

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  2. Last Letter was great, as was this one. I would strongly encourage you to get hold of Me Before You too!

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  3. Interesting, it sounds good though I wonder what makes Liv want to keep the painting so much when the family are saying it was stolen and rightfully theirs, it seems almost an ethical element.

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    1. There is definitely an ethical element to this book.

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  4. Looks good--after seeing you mention this author several times, I really want to read some of her books. I'll keep my eye out for this one.

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    1. I hope you get a chance to read her Beth! Any of her latest books are a great place to start.

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  5. I love it when a book manages to convey urgency in both halves of a split narrative, and it sounds like this one does. I would be eager to read this one and see what I think of it. It sounds like a lovely read, and one that I would really enjoy. I am glad that a favorite author didn't disappoint!

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    1. I hope you have a chance to try her books Heather!

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  6. I love split-time narratives too and I'm yet to read a Moyes novel so i'll have to add this one to my wishlist. I think i prefer the UK cover too, though neither would really indicate to me that there are historical aspects to this novel too.

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    1. Jayne, either grab this one or the last one, Me Before You!

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  7. Haven't read the book, but I have to say I love the Australian cover....I think it's the flowers.

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    1. It's interesting how different images work for different readers!

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  8. Sounds interesting. Pretty sensitive topic too. I haven't read any JoJo Moyes books before but might have to give her a try one day.

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    1. Do! She is a really good author!

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