The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
Published by Penguin Books on June 24 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Adult Fiction
Rating: 3/5 stars
Another New York Times bestseller by the author of Me Before You—a spellbinding story of two women united in their fight for what they love most
Jojo Moyes’s word-of-mouth bestseller, Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and struck a chord with a wide range of readers everywhere. Now, with The Girl You Left Behind, Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker—a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with her signature ability to capture our hearts.
Paris, 1916. Sophie Lefèvre must keep her family safe while her adored husband, Édouard, fights at the front. When their town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Sophie is forced to serve them every evening at her hotel. From the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait—painted by her artist husband—a dangerous obsession is born, one that will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision. Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before his sudden death. After a chance encounter reveals the portrait’s true worth, a battle begins over its troubled history and Liv’s world is turned upside all over again.
The Girl You Left Behind is a book I normally wouldn’t gravitate towards. I picked it up because it was the only book in the ferry gift shop that looked decent, and I was desperate for a book (I’d finished the book I brought in the car & my e-reader was dead!). I’ve heard a lot of praise for Jojo Moyes’ books and thought I’d give this one a shot.
I must say right off the bat that I just didn’t love this book. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t realise when I started that the majority of the book was devoted to the contemporary story line. I just didn’t connect with Liv and I wish the entire book had just been Sophie’s story. I loved the glimpse into life in a small French village under German occupation during WWI. It was fascinating. How could I possibly not love Sophie after that pig scene at the very beginning of the book? She was clever and stubborn and independent.
I found Liv rather unsympathetic. I understood that she was in a poor state of mind following her husband’s death, but I just thought she was whiny and irritating. She has come to be the owner of a very special painting (the connection between her story and Sophie’s) bought by her and her late husband on their honeymoon. This painting becomes part of a restitution case, as descendants of Edouard LeFevre (Sophie’s husband) claim that it was stolen during the war and demand its return to its rightful owners. Liv doesn’t want to return the painting because of the emotional attachment that she has to it, and she also suspects that the family is pursuing the painting for all the wrong reasons. I agree that the LeFevres were assholes, but I don’t think that what Liv did was much better. She was holding onto the painting the same way that she was holding on to every little thing that reminded her of David – it was holding her back from any kind of future she could imagine.
The main issue I had with the modern day storyline was that there was so much emphasis on the romance between Liv and Paul. I just didn’t see the chemistry at all. I didn’t care about them. I didn’t really care about what happened to in the restitution case. The only person who I felt actually deserved that painting was Sophie, but she was long dead by that point. I think that this book would have been much more successful if Sophie’s story took up the majority of the bulk, while Liv’s romance and legal case took a backseat.