The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes

Aw, y’all, thanks for pointing me in the direction of this book. I would never have known about it if the blogosphere hadn’t all jumped up and down shouting “LOOK HERE AT THIS,” so as ever, I am indebted to you for your bookfinding awesomeness.

The Girl You Left Behind  The Girl You Left Behind

The beginning: Sophie lives in an occupied French town during World War I, and she and her sister and brother are struggling to get by. When the Kommandant of the German regiment sees a portrait of Sophie, painted by her husband, he begins to take an interest in them, an interest that could prove dangerous.

(There is also, I know from the flap copy, a second storyline about a modern-day widow called Liv who owns the portrait and faces the possibility that she will have to return it to the family that originally owned it. But that story doesn’t start until well into the book.)

The end (spoilers in this section only; highlight blank spaces to read them): I read the end pretty early on, and doing so made me like JoJo Moyes so much. In the end, Liv gets to keep the painting, and although we are left uncertain as to Sophie’s exact fate, there is good reason to believe that she was reunited with her husband and they lived happily ever after. Anyway that is what I am going to believe happened.

The whole: The Girl You Left Behind (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) is such a dear book. I’m glad y’all raved about it–Jill particularly piqued my interest by saying that both storylines are equally as good as each other; a rare and enticing thing! And extra extra thanks to Amused by Books for being my dealer on this one. I can now say with authority: If you haven’t picked up anything by Jojo Moyes before (as I haven’t), I recommend you do so now.

One of my longtime comfort authors, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, distinguishes herself from other writers of romantic suspense/mystery because of the specificity of her plot settings. When she sets a book in a vintage clothing store, it’s not just a backdrop for her characters, it’s an important part of their lives. She talks about the types of customers that come to vintage clothing stores, the types of clothes people try to sell, the places you  hope to get really good finds, and it all feels specific, real, and fascinating.

The Girl You Left Behind has that same sort of specificity. Liv’s love interest, Paul, works for a company that specializes in returning looted artwork to its owners, and his involvement with this work is more than just an obstacle to a promising relationship. Moyes doesn’t shy away from the complex questions that Liv’s predicament raises: Though neither Liv nor her late husband had any intention of wrongdoing when they bought the painting, they may still be a link in a chain that starts with wartime theft or coercion. And Liv is not fighting against returning the portrait because she’s truly sure that it should be hers, but rather because she cannot bear to part with it.

In both storylines, Moyes deliberately sets up a fascinating opposition between love and morality. Both Sophie and Liv are implicated in (and benefited by) an evil not of their making, and their stubborn love for absent husbands makes it difficult for them to extricate themselves. Though the resolution of the book’s major conflicts is perhaps a trifle convenient, it succeeds brilliantly in providing an emotionally satisfying conclusion to both storylines at once. Moyes’s generosity to her characters and her avoidance of easy moral solutions made The Girl You Left Behind a surprising, lovable, wonderful read. I can’t wait to pick up more books by this author.

Cover report: I feel like the American cover isn’t even trying. British cover wins (not by being awesome, just by showing up.)

  • IKR, re American covers generally! LOLOL

  • Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for one’s mother (so often they are difficult to buy for!). The American cover is tragic in its don’t-care-if-you-buy-me-or-not vibe.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahaha, noted. I’ll add it to the Christmas list I apparently keep for you. :p

  • I’m hesitant about her other book, but I really want to read this one. That said I wasn’t so interested in Liv’s tale, rarely keen in the modern sections, but I like your discussion and detailing here. It sounds as though the stories are intertwined more than they often are.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes, that’s definitely true. I have read many two-timeline books (in fact, nearly all of them) where one timeline was markedly less interesting than the other. But this doesn’t fall into that trap!

  • The American cover is SO blah- and has nothing to do with the story. I am loving this author quite a lot! I need to read Me Before You- I already read The Last Letter Form Your Lover- it was great!

    • Gin Jenny

      Oh goody! I have both of those to look forward too, plus Windfallen (which I got on Nook for cheap) and at least one other that my library has and I have currently forgotten the name of.

  • I was (still am) hesitant about her first book because of the subject matter, but still desperately want to try this author! I think you sold me on this one! And geez louise, but that British cover is like a MILLION times better than the American one.

    • Gin Jenny

      Which one is her first book?

      Jill from Rhapsody in Books says that the British cover is ALWAYS better than the American one, but I think that’s an exaggeration. I’m doing a long-term comparative study of covers, starting this month, so we will have definitive answers pretty soon. :p In this case, it’s a clear win for England.

  • I’m so, SO glad you enjoyed this one! I absolutely loved it and have since forced it upon numerous people.

    It’s upsetting that the American cover hasn’t been getting any love! In person the colors are so vivid and the cover is velvety smooth.

  • Is the American cover the blue one? If so, I think it mimics her other book that was big this year, Me Before You. I was a little on the fence about this one (WWI/WWII are not usually my thing), but you’ve made this sound lovely. I love the comparison to Peters, another author I enjoy a lot.

  • I think I’m going to have to give in and read this one. I wasn’t a huge fan of Me Before You (I know, I know…everyone loved it, but I felt manipulated – I think she wanted me to fall into a puddle of tears and she succeeded), but the consensus on this one is so good, I can’t avoid it.