Release Date: August 2013
Publisher: Penguin | Viking
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads
Summary (from Goodreads)
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 behinds for who its legitimate owner is - putting Liv's belief in what is right to the ultimate test.
Thoughts on The Girl You Left Behind
Earlier this year, I read Jojo Moyes' Me Before You and absolutely fell in love with this new-to-me author. She's actually written a number of books, but they were published in the U.K. and aren't all available in the U.S. Anyway, needless to say, I was so excited to see that she had a new book coming out this year when I spotted it on NetGalley. Seriously, there was some happy dancing going on and lots of hoping I'd get approved. I was even more excited when I realized this had a historical fiction element because I was thrilled to read something in my favorite genre from a new favorite author.
The Girl You Left Behind opens in France in 1916. Sophie is living in a small village with her brother, her sister and her sister's children. It's World War I, and their quiet town is occupied by the Germans. They live in the hotel that they run, a place that has been stripped of its former glory, but it still serves as a place where their fellow townspeople can gather and chat. It may not be much, but it's something. Sophie and her sister haven't heard from their husbands in a while - they're off fighting at the front and things certainly look grim.
Then, the Germans decide to start eating at their hotel, which seems like a small things but it changes everything. The Kommandant becomes fascinated with a portrait on the wall at the hotel. It's a painting of Sophie that was done by her husband, an accomplished artist. At first, the Kommandant only cares about the painting... until he starts to take an interest in the flesh-and-blood woman. The town takes notice. Sophie is desperate for her husband's return, and she would do anything possible to keep him safe. When suspicions are raised and whispers start, things come to a head in this tiny French village.
At a key point in Sophie's story, the book moves almost a century forward and readers are introduced to young widow Liv Halston. She's still at a loss about what to do next. Her husband, David, was an incredible architect and their house is a part of his legacy. Liv can barely make ends meet, but she can't imagine selling the house. It would be like losing David all over again. The only other thing she clings to is a portrait titled "The Girl You Left Behind." It's the painting of Sophie that first caught the Kommandant's eye so long ago, now hanging proudly on Liv's walls.
When Liv meets someone new and intriguing, she begins to think that there may be another chance at love in her future. But he brings with him unwelcome news, and Liv is suddenly confronted with the painting's worth and history.
I honestly loved so many things about this book. I don't typically like dual narratives within a book, particularly when they take place in such different time periods, but I absolutely adored them both in this case. Sophie's story is heartbreaking, bleak and desperate. And when it stops at such a climactic moment - only to move so far forward - I wasn't sure how I was going to feel.
Once I got into Liv's story, I really fell in love with her character. She's lost and unsure of herself, still reeling from the death of her husband. When she's threatened with the loss of something she holds dear, she fights back with everything in her.
I loved both time periods so much, and I was delighted to see how the two stories merged into one and how the women and the painting are all connected. The search for the painting's provenance - the chronology of its ownership - and the way that plays into the story was so fascinating to me. I'd say more but I don't want to spoil anything!
While the book wasn't perhaps as memorable as Me Before You, it was equally as gripping. I stayed up late into the night reading this one, frantically turning pages and hoping to find out Sophie's fate and the conclusion to Liv's fight to keep what she belongs with her. Sophie and Liv have both been left behind by the men in their lives, and the way their stories parallel and intertwine is so lovely and so gripping. I loved that even when the women made tough decisions, perhaps even unlikable ones, I still felt as though I understood them and was rooting for them. I couldn't read fast enough - that's how desperately I wanted to know what was to become of them.
This is the kind of book that's such a joy to recommend - perfect for fans of historical OR contemporary fiction as it offers a little something of both. Each part of the tale is engrossing, moving and will completely suck you into this book. It's different than Me Before You, to be sure, but it makes me even more excited to dive into Moyes' backlist AND for her future releases. I have a feeling she'll become a favorite of mine! Well-drawn characters, intriguing stories and moving endings are three things I'll never say no to, and Moyes' books have them in spades.
"This was the story of our lives: minor insurrections; tiny victories; a brief chance to ridicule our oppressors; little floating vessels of hope amid a great sea of uncertainty, deprivation, and fear."
*I received a copy of this book from Penguin/Viking in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for this review.