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 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.)