I first fell in love with Jojo Moyes’ writing when I got Me before You as a birthday gift last year. In that book, Moyes tackles the issue of assisted suicide with insight and compassion, and I couldn’t wait to read her next offering. The Girl You Left Behind certainly doesn’t disappoint and is probably one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a while.
Set partly in France during World War One, and partly in modern-day London, the tale will appeal to anyone who loves a beautifully written historical novel. The two principal characters in this compelling story are Sophie Lefevre, who tries her utmost to keep her family safe as Germans occupy their rural French village, and Liv Halston, a young widow living in London, who is struggling to move on with her life. Sophie’s husband, who is fighting at the front, is a renowned artist, and painted an evocative portrait of her, named The Girl You Left Behind, in the early days of their courtship. The painting becomes the focal point of the novel, as the Kommandant of the occupying forces becomes obsessed with it, and seemingly with Sophie herself. Nearly 100 years later, and this very painting hangs in Liv’s bedroom, a gift bought for her by her husband while on honeymoon. She has no idea of the painting’s worth, or its questionable origins, until a claim from the Lefevre family causes her to delve into its history.
Moyes handles the difficult subject of art stolen during the war with great sensitivity, and an impeccable eye for historical detail, while still allowing us to see beyond this into the lives of the characters. Both Sophie and Liv are portrayed as determined to fight for what they love, and are not without folly in this, making them all the more likeable. This book will make you smile and cry, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be reading as fast as you can to find out what happens next, while simultaneously dragging it out so you can savour every last word. Highly recommended.
My copy of The Girl You Left Behind was published by Penguin Books in 2012.