Part One of this book focuses on the life of a woman named Sophie Lefevre who is living in a German-occupied French town during WWI. She lives with her sister, young brother, niece and nephew at the family’s hotel while her husband, Edouard, and brother-in-law are off fighting in the war. She and her sister are made to cook and serve dinner to the local Kommandant and some of his troops each night. Before the war, Edouard, an artist, had painted a portrait of Sophie. Sophie insisted on hanging the picture in the hotel, and it caught the eye of the Kommandant. Despite her antipathy towards the Germans, Sophie’s feeling towards the Kommandant eventually soften. When she finds out that Edouard has been taken prisoner, she approaches the Kommandant and requests that he help return Edouard to her in exchange for the portrait that has enthralled the Kommandant.
Part Two of “The Girl You Left Behind” is mixed between being set in the present time and the continuation of Sophie’s story during WWI. In the present time, the portrait of Sophie Lefevre is owned by Liv, a young widow. Her husband, David, was an architect and the painting was given to her by him as a wedding present. On the anniversary of David’s death, she is drowning her sorrows in a bar when her purse is stolen. The bar owner’s brother, Paul, is a former policeman and offers to help her. The two eventually start dating, but when she eventually invites Paul into her home he sees the portrait of Sophie. He works for a company that looks to find stolen artwork and return it to their original and rightful owners. Coincidentally, Paul is working on the case to find the portrait of Sophie for Edouard’s family, who had noted that it was missing in a recent audit of his works. The painting had not been seen since WWI, when it was presumably stolen by the Germans. After breaking the news to Liv about her painting’s history, they get into an embroiled legal battle over the rightful owner of the portrait. Determining the rightful owner means finding out everything possible about the painting’s history, including how it came to be in the possession of the woman owned it before David. The book jumps back and forth between Sophie’s life at the end of the war and Liv’s attempts to find out what happened to Sophie and the painting almost one hundred years ago.
I LOVED this book! I enjoyed reading Part One, but it honestly left me wondering why people had given this book such wonderful reviews. While it was enjoyable and interesting, it wasn’t particularly special on its own. Part One is basically there to provide you with the basic background of the story, while Part Two is where all the drama and suspense occurs. However, Part Two would not be nearly as amazing without all the character development done by the author in Part One. By Part Two I was so engrossed that I couldn’t put the book down…which is how I managed to read the thing within 24 hours!
I’m usually annoyed when a book has a predictable ending. This book was interesting because some parts of the ending were very predictable while others were a complete surprise. I also liked that some parts of the story don’t have a perfectly happy ending. I hate when books tie up all their story lines with wonderful happy conclusions because it makes the story seem too perfect and unbelievable. Unless it’s a fairy tale, it shouldn’t all end happily-ever after. That said, I don’t like books that are gruesomely depressing either. This book leaves you feeling happy overall at the end, but there are enough solemn moments to make the story realistic. If you look at the entire cast of characters, you end up feeling bad for several of them. I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to give any spoilers away, so I’ll just say this: if you haven’t read this book, move it to the top of your reading list!
One little thing about this book that took me aback for a second was how the narrative is written. Everything about Sophie is written in the first person and the past tense. However, the parts about Liv are written in the third person and the present tense. Did that stick out to anyone else who has read this book? I’m assuming that was completely intentional by the author, but it kind of threw me for a loop when I started reading Part Two. I know Kate Morton switches between first person and third person when switching between the past and the present in her books, but I’m pretty sure Morton writes her “present time” narrative in the past tense. I think most novels I’ve read are written in the past tense, because I’m having a hard time thinking of one written in the present tense. My point is – I found it a little jarring at the beginning of Part Two to go from the first person past tense to the third person present tense. I felt like I kept having to reread some of the sentences because my brain kept wanting to put everything in past tense and that wasn’t what I was reading! It was fine after a while, but it did interrupt the flow of the book a little bit. But, if that’s your biggest complaint about a book….it’s got to be pretty good, right!?
This is the first book I’ve read by Jo Jo Moyes. My mom told me she had read “The Last Letter from Your Lover” and had a “meh – it was ok” review of it, which kind of surprised me because I thought “The Girl You Left Behind” was fantastic. That said, my mom and I have slightly different book preferences. I’ve added “One Plus One” and “Me Before You” to my reading list. I’m hoping that I find Moyes’ other books are as good as this one!
Until later, Ashlen