Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes. She is the author of several novels, including the recent bestseller Me Before You.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Readers: Communications director Barbara, editor Kristina, attorney Elizabeth H., stay-at-home mom Dana and victim advocate MJ.
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…
Our Take: This two-time-frame novel of love and loss enraptured our readers. Elizabeth H., our one reviewer with a few qualms, found the characters a bit too perfect but still gave it a positive grade.
For me a book hits the mark when I ignore most everything to read it. There were a few late dinners in my household while I raced through this one.
I liked that the story moved between World War I German-occupied France and present-day London. What ties it altogether is a single painting. I felt the juxtaposition between the two eras worked. Sophie, the World War I narrator, immediately drew me in. I was especially drawn to the plight of her family in German-occupied France. What would she do to survive? What lengths would she go to to find her artist husband, now a prisoner of war?
Meanwhile, I felt for Liv, a widow who is left with the painting as a reminder of her late husband. Why was the painting so important to her and why would she fight so hard to keep it? That need to understand and tie the two women together propelled me through the book.
It’s a chick book that entertains with equal parts romance and history and a fun read, one that I will gladly recommend.
I really, really enjoyed this book. There wasn’t anything about it that was terribly original, it was just a beautiful, heartbreaking love story. I loved all the characters, as broken and imperfect as they were. I was cheering them on, crying with them, and so hopeful everything would work out. I loved the historical fiction aspect of the book and liked the way the two centuries were tied together not only with common themes, but one very seemingly innocent object.
This book was just all-around great. I read it when I was supposed to be doing things like sleeping or working or folding laundry. Highly recommend.
THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND is a time-jumping, parallel love story. During World War I, Sophie misses her husband, the charming, Matisse-trained painter, Edouard, who is off at the front, while the German commander who occupies her small village pants after her. In the present day, the owner of a painting of Sophie by Edouard, Liv Halston, coincidentally falls for the man (Paul) who is supposed to recover the painting for its (alleged) legitimate owners.
The main characters are well-drawn, in the sense they are immediately evocative and distinct with very little description (that’s not easy to do). Impressively, so is Edouard, who doesn’t make much of an appearance, except in flashback.
They are also…well, a little too perfect, even if distinct. The women are beautiful, strong-willed, and even their bad decisions are undertaken for noble reasons. The men are handsome, strong, and noble. Poor Paul is such a stereotype he doesn’t even rate a mention on the book’s cover copy. And the children, when they aren’t starving to death during the war, are all above average. It’s like Lake Woebegone, only with earth-shattering sex. (No Lutherans need apply.)
Which is all to say that it helps if you think of it as a romance novel with a dark back story, but even then the flawlessness of the main characters is a bit grating. Oh, the (modern) heroine’s main problem is that her perfect, rich husband died suddenly, she’s taken up running to cope and has a rocking body now, she has a hefty mortgage on her Architectural Digest-like house, and then suddenly she meets a handsome knight in shining armor–that’s cover copy-less Paul–maybe his fatal flaw is he’s American? Oh, but he’s now her enemy. In all of London, that’s the love match! What are the odds?!
So yes, I rolled my eyes, but I bought it for the duration of the book. The moment I put it aside? Not so much.
In execution, in style, it’s pretty flawless. I disliked the first person/third person switch from past/present. I understand why the author might have made that decision, but I was so filled with dread from Sophie’s choice (now, was that deliberate? Hm…) I could have used the slight distance a third person point of view would have given me, because I spent most of the book with horrible, stomach-churning dread. This isn’t something I look for in a novel.
The second half of the novel is a bit sloppy; too many points of view, too much Matlock-like deus ex machina. As a lawyer, I can only imagine how delighted a judge would have really been by the theatrics.
I loved Moyes’ Me Before You, so I was excited to read her newest novel. While it didn’t resonate with me quite as much as her previous book, it did not disappoint. I was so engrossed in Sophie’s story that it was a shock to be brought to present day for Liv’s story. Moyes weaves the two together well, although I think Sophie’s tale was the stronger one. I read in anticipation of learning more of her story once the novel switches to the present, and I was invested from the beginning. I’ve read so many novels centering around the World Wars, yet the perspective from a German-occupied French town was a new one for me.
The plot is neither boringly predictable or utterly shocking; it was satisfyingly somewhere in between. Tales of war, loss, redemption and love make for a completely enjoyable read.
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