Book: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes
That’s my second Jojo Moyes in a row and she’s fast redeeming herself. I know I know I’d said I’d read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, but The Girl You Left Behind was sitting there on my bookshelf begging to be read, and well, I couldn’t resist.
I thought I’d have a quick look you know, just to check if I needed to put Moyes back on my favourite-author list, but before I knew it I was sucked right in.
Books have a way of doing that.
Let me share the story so you know exactly how that happened
The Girl you Left Behind tells the story of two women in two different timelines.
First, there’s Sophie, a proud and courageous Frenchwoman. Her story is set in 1916 during the German occupation of France in the First World War. She runs a small hotel along with her sister, and is forced to serve the German Kommandant and his men, much against her wishes.
Sophie’s husband (who is away fighting the war) was a painter and did a striking painting of hers that hangs in her hotel now. It catches the eye of the Kommandant who seems to be obsessed with it. Through it all, Sophie struggles to keep her family safe even as she tries to find her husband through the Kommandant. How far will she go?
Cut to London, 2006. Sophie’s painting is now owned by Liv Halston, who is mourning the recent loss of her husband. The painting is now worth a fortune, although Liv is unaware of it. To her, its value lies in the fact that it’s a wedding gift from her dead husband. Events then on, shake up Liv’s life as she struggles to keep ownership of the painting.
What I thought of it
I’ve read a few other books with two timelines and in each of them one of the two stories has stood head and shoulders above the other. Moyes’ book also suffers from the this problem, although the contrast wasn’t as stark.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning.
The book opens with Sophie’s story…
…. and I was completely captivated. Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres and Moyes brings it alive. The fear, the hunger and the cold. The shortages, the prejudices as also the sense of community, it was all there. And there was intrigue. Sophie’s interactions with the Kommandant made for compelling reading. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It was riveting right up to the very end.
Then came Liv’s story…
…and the pace fell dramatically; as if sudden brakes had been applied on an enjoyable adventurous journey. I had to push myself to keep going and my mind kept wandering away, wondering why Moyes had to desert Sophie at all, why she even attempted to add Liv’s tale and water down a stunning narrative.
While Sophie’s romance with her husband Édouard Lefèvre (before he leaves for the war) is passionate and real, their life idyllic, Liv’s remains vague. When I think of her husband, David, all I can think of is a genius architect, not a loving husband. And that is why Liv’s loss doesn’t ring true even though Moyes takes great pains to try to convince the reader of it.
That said, the story does come together towards the end. There’s a court trial and Moyes redeemed herself somewhat by the time I turned the last few pages. I still maintain Liv’s part could have been shorter.
…tied up neatly, a little too neatly, but I won’t complain, sucker as I am, for happy endings. Moyes seemed to be making up for Me Before You :-).
The title of the book..
… fitted both heroines beautifully. Sophie (as ‘the girl who was left behind’) pines for her husband, who, I have to add, was an adorable character and a perfect foil to Sophie. In the other story, Liv is the one who is ‘left behind’ and cannot forget her dead husband. It seems only right then, that the painting with that title holds both narratives together.
It may sound presumptuous to comment on a bestselling author but this book could have done with better editing. Just a bit of tweaking could have made a difference.
PS: If you’ve read the book …
….. do tell what purpose Mo served by being in it. I thought she ate up too many pages without adding a whit to the story or even supporting it in any way whatsoever.
Also, since I mentioned Sophie’s husband earlier, I have to add he was my favourite character in the book even though he’s barely in it. His letters to Sophie were enchanting. His bear-like joyful personality leaps up from the letters. I’d have given the world to see that drawing of his – the bear in a French army uniform with Sophie by his side.
Last Thought: This isn’t a perfect book but I’d still recommend it if you like Historical Fiction.