Zarina's Reviews > The Girl You Left Behind

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
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's review
Aug 12, 2012

it was amazing
Read from August 12 to 14, 2012

This is an astonishing novel which beautifully connects present and past in a tale of war and love.

The Girl You Left Behind has a dual time-frame narrative; the first part is seen through the eyes of a woman in occupied France in 1916, the second through one living in modern day London. I'm not generally a fan of historical literature, particularly one with a war setting, so I was slightly reluctant at the start of this novel. However, any doubts I had were washed away mere minutes after picking up the novel as the story within was so gripping that I could barely manage to put it down at all.

Part one of the novel is set mostly in the occupied French village St Péronne at the height of the first World War. Sophie LeFèvre lives with her brother Aurélien, sister Hélène, and her sister's children in their former hotel La Coq, while her husband and brother-in-law are somewhere at the front but haven't been heard of for months. Their house used to be a decent hotel but stripped bare by the Germans there's little left of the glorious rooms where both Sophie and Hélène spent their wedding nights. The bar downstairs is still very lively during the day, though rations are low so the gathering of people has little to do with splurging on alcoholic drinks but more with finding solace amongst one another.

Author Jojo Moyes paints a sober picture of the town and its people that slowly turns more gritty as the story moves along; with neighbour turning on neighbour as the slightest of suspicions. Sophie witnesses the brutal impact the towns gossip can have first hand as the new German Kommandant takes a fancy first to Edouard's painting of Sophie, 'The Girl You Left Behind', and then also to the woman herself. Accused of being a collaborator Sophie feels she has nothing left to lose when she makes one final attempt to find her way back to Edouard.

At a crucial stage in Sophie's story we suddenly flick to London in 2006 and meet young widow Olivia Halston. Her husband died four years ago and despite friends and family urging her to move on she desperately clings to anything that remains of David. This means she's had to remortgage the house she lives in as she doesn't want to part with the architectural legacy David left behind.

When Live meets the charming Paul McCafferty she, for the first time since David's passing, finally feels she may have a chance at a romantic relationship again. That is, until she finds out that he works for a company that specialises in recovering stolen art and that a painting bought for her by David, 'The Girl You Left Behind', is currently being pursued by descendants of Edouard LeFèvre.

What follows is Paul and Liv's search into the past, Sophie's past to be exact, to try and uncover the truth behind the painting's journey. Liv desperately tries to prove it was never stolen as the painting symbolises a little piece of David she doesn't want to part with. But on the opposite end Paul continues to find evidence to state the contrary and slowly Sophie sees the painting slipping away from her fingers.

Through the characters' combined research into the painting's history the reader picks up bits and pieces of Sophie's life after the story was left off in the novel. As Paul and Liv piece together the faith of the young woman who just as desperately tried to get back to Edouard as Sophie is trying to cling to the fragments of David she has not yet lost, so does the reader.

At this stage I honestly couldn't flip the pages quick enough to find out what had happened to Sophie and what would happen to the painting. Written incredibly engaging both stories were unfolding at a pace that keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat for the duration of the novel. The final quarter in particular was revealing and an absolute emotional roller-coaster for me. I went from feeling sad when confronted with the suffering of both women central in the story, to angry at the inconsiderate and greedy people they come across, until finally a sense of serenity came over me as the novel came to satisfactory conclusion within its final pages.

Touching, moving, heart-breaking at times but heart-warming in the end, The Girl You Left Behind truly is one superb piece of writing. I wonder if it's too soon to start reading it again straight away? This time perhaps not flipping the pages quite as quickly as I've done before in my desperation to find out what would happen next, but instead relishing the beautiful words of author Jojo Moyes.

Too soon or not, one thing I will certainly do is add Moyes' back-catalogue to my to-read list as I've found a new inspiring author that I certainly want to read more of.

Review originally posted on my blog:
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02/17/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Nastya (new) - added it

Nastya Moyes IS amazing, isn't she?... Read "Me before You"! that was my first book by this author. I fell in love with everything about it just like you did!......

Gail Brilliant review and one which I totally agree with. I couldn't turn the pages quick enough either. I just loved this book from start to finish

message 4: by Cheyenne (new)

Cheyenne Quick question (not meant to be rude at all) do you mean descendants of Edouard LeFèvre and not ancestors?

Zarina Cheyenne wrote: "Quick question (not meant to be rude at all) do you mean descendants of Edouard LeFèvre and not ancestors?"
You're absolutely right there, no idea how I hadn't caught that earlier! Thanks for the head's up, will amend.

message 6: by Cheyenne (new)

Cheyenne Yeah, I really liked your review but that just made me blink for a second. No problem and thanks for the quick reply.

Clare Hulme Lovely review. I've just started reading this book and so looking forward to it.

Zarina Clare wrote: "Lovely review. I've just started reading this book and so looking forward to it."
Thanks Clare, hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Clare Hulme Finished it yesterday and lived it. Didn't really want it to end x

Zarina Clare wrote: "Finished it yesterday and lived it. Didn't really want it to end x"
That's the downside of a really good book: On the one hand you WANT to know what happens next, on the other... you don't want it to be over. Good to hear you enjoyed it till the end though :)

Rebecca Wild-wesley Loved this book and the review as well as her book Me Before You. Great new author!

Zarina Rebecca wrote: "Loved this book and the review as well as her book Me Before You. Great new author!"
Thanks! I haven't read all her novels myself yet (though I want too), but her latest book, The One Plus One, is very good as well.

Wiktoria F Totally agree! This book is my favorite so far!

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