The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes caught me by surprise. It has now become my favourite Jojo Moyes book apart from Me Before You. I’ve been reading a lot of Jojo Moyes’ backlist lately, ever since my husband gifted me a whole heap of her books. I wasn’t in a huge rush to read this one. Then I read her collection of short stories — Paris For One — and there was a short story about a young married couple living in Paris, just before the outbreak of World War One. I really enjoyed their story and was thrilled to discover it was continued in this book.
I finally read The Girl You Left Behind when I was on holiday — and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a story about a young French woman named Sophie who lives in German occupied France. She runs a hotel with her sister, younger brother and her sister’s children. Her husband, Edouard, was a talented painter who was part of the Académie Matisse before the war and he’s now fighting on the front. There’s a portrait he painted of Sophie that hangs on the wall of the hotel. It captures the eye of the local German Kommandant. He then insists on his men being fed their daily dinner at the hotel, served reluctantly by Sophie and her sister. Bad times are ahead…
Nearly a century later, Sophie’s portrait is owned by Liv. The portrait was gifted to Liv by her husband shortly before his death. Liv randomly meets a man named Paul who sparks her romantic interest for the first time since her husband’s death. But their relationship is about to be tested by the very painting which hangs on her wall. Paul works in the art world helping to return paintings stolen during the war to their rightful owners. The portrait of Sophie may be one of those paintings…
Usually when a book has a dual narrative, one set in the past and one set in the present, I always favour a particular storyline and want to spend all my reading time there. But with The Girl You Left Behind, I loved both narratives. I felt so much for both women and was so invested in both their stories. I loved how the past and present was woven together in this book. I sped through it because I had to find out how it ended.
The writing was fantastic, the characters were wonderfully believable and I was emotionally invested in everything they went through. The war-time scenes were very moving and tense! The modern-day storyline was also fascinating with the whole stolen artwork plot. Paul and Liv had to piece together what happened to Sophie in the past in order to prove who is the rightful owner of the painting in the present day. There were just so many interesting elements going on in this book.
If you loved The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or any novels which deal with art history, then I highly recommend this book to you. This was a five-star read for me which played on all my emotions. A totally unexpected find.
Verdict: I only wished I had picked this book up years ago! Rating: All the stars!