Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

I think this book cemented Jojo Moyes as an author whose books I will automatically add to my TBR list. While I do think that The Last Letter from Your Lover and Me Before You are probably better books, I still really enjoyed The Girl You Left Behind.

Let’s get into it.

Description from the publisher:

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.

The story of Sophie Lefevre is told first. It’s World War I. Sophie’s husband, Edouard, is a soldier, and she is living with her sister in a small village outside of Paris that has been occupied by the German army. Their situation is bleak, with most of the villagers’ possessions already confiscated by the Germans and food scarce. A new commandant has arrived and demands that Sophie use her inn to feed a small group of German soldiers. She agrees because she has to, but finds common ground with the commandant when he shows an interest in a portrait her husband painted of her before they married, and wishes to discuss art with her. Sophie does not return his affections, but is willing to view him as a person rather than simply as the enemy, which draws animosity from her fellow villagers.  Once word reaches Sophie that her husband has been sent to a reprisal camp, where he will almost certainly die, Sophie appeals to the commandant and lets him know she will do anything to save her husband, even give herself and give up her beloved portrait.

Suddenly, it’s 2006 the portrait is hanging in the home of Liv Halston.  It was a honeymoon gift from the husband she is still mourning, who died four years earlier and left her a house she can’t afford but is unwilling to part with because she sees it as a betrayal of his memory. She finally starts to truly move on when she meets Paul, ironically a professional art-theft investigator, who immediately recognizes her painting as one he has been hired to retrieve by the descendants of Edouard, who believe it was stolen by the German commandant and should be returned to their family. We learn what happened to Sophie through the investigations of Liv and Paul as they battle over who the rightful owner of the painting should be.

Jojo Moyes is a really good storyteller. She’s great at effectively juggling two story lines and time frames within one larger story. Just when I was completely sucked into Sophie’s story, she would switch and I found myself completely sucked into Liv’s story before long. I like that Moyes isn’t afraid to give her characters flaws or have tertiary characters dislike her protagonists. I like that there isn’t a simple right/wrong answer, and I found myself going back and forth in this book over what I thought the characters should do a lot. And while I thought this story could have easily been a good 50 pages shorter, it ended with a sweet, emotional surprise that made the dragged-out trial section worth it.

I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to her latest, One Plus One(Only a hundred or so people ahead of me in library holds!)

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