From the publisher:
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 for who its legitimate owner is—putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.
Jojo Moyes’ incredible Me Before You was one of the first books I read this year, and will no doubt be in my list of my favorite books from this year, so to say I was excited that she had another book coming out would be a huge understatement. I was THRILLED when She Reads chose it for our October selection and dove in to The Girl You Left Behind as soon as was reasonably possible. Having now finished the book, I have to say, I’m extremely impressed that Moyes managed to write something so completely different from her last novel but was almost equally fantastic in my eyes!
The first main character we meet in this novel is Sophie, and I found myself immediately interested in her story. The situation she and the rest of her small town was in – war all around, the town having been taken over by Germans, having very little food to eat and never enough supplies for any reasonable life, never knowing what tomorrow will bring – was terrifying and truly beyond any kind of life I can really imagine. Add to that the fact that almost all the men in this town were away at war – including Sophie’s husband, the love of her life. It didn’t surprise me at all that she was willing to go to whatever extreme she needed to for a chance to see him again, and thanks to Moyes’ excellent writing and characterization, her actions seemed perfectly in tune with her personality to me – even when she made some really uncomfortable choices. My heart just ached for her, no matter how much I may have not liked what she did.
The reader is introduced to Liv about 100 pages into the book, and I have to admit to feeling jolted out of the story I was loving when Moyes brought me to the present time and to Liv. However, once I got to know and like her, my heart just broke for what she was going through, too. Her husband had passed away, leaving her all alone in this huge house, and just when she finally begins feeling like her life might make a little bit of sense again, she gets entangled into this battle for a painting that she feels deeply connects her to her late husband. It was just so heartbreaking! Neither of the women in this story seemed to ever catch a break.
What I loved about this book is the fact that not only did I find myself completely involved in both of these women’s stories, but Moyes managed to weave the stories together in such a way that the resolution to everything came at the exact right time and was delivered about as perfectly as possible. While they were two different women living different lives in different time periods, by the end of the book their lives were so inextricably linked that Liv actually felt a deep connection to Sophie, a woman she’d never met, who lived on the other side of the world, and who had probably died before she was even born. I felt that deep connection myself, so it was wonderful to feel it in Liv as well.
There is so much more I loved about this novel! The secondary characters were great – from Liv’s temporary roommate to Sophie’s sister to the man Liv is falling for to the German Kommandent who has taken over Sophie’s town. Moyes just does such an incredible job of painting complete pictures of people’s lives and creating fully realized, flawed but wonderful characters that I can’t help but fall in love with. And her writing is just superb. Descriptive without being flowery, realistic dialogue, you name it. Perfection.
While Me Before You was a perfect novel, one that will probably be on my favorites list for a long time, The Girl You Left Behind is an incredible follow-up and one that I highly recommend. I doubt anything Moyes writes will top Me Before You in my eyes, but I certainly give her props for trying with this novel. I really loved it and I hope you give Jojo Moyes a chance soon if you haven’t already done so.