Monday, November 4, 2013

My take on: The Girl You Left Behind

Sometimes I'm a bad, bad blogger. I should have finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes sooner!!

At the height of World War I, a small French town is under the tight control of German soldiers. There is little food to go around. There is little information about the war. One woman, Sophie Lefevre, is determined to go on. She and her sister, Helene, run a small hotel and restaurant. They do the best they can to shield their children from the horrors of the war. Sophie's husband Edouard is off fighting in the war for France. Sophie knows she will see him again. All she has to hold onto is the portrait Edouard painted of her. Everyday she stares at the painting, wondering if she will ever be that girl again. The girl in that picture didn't have to fear German soldiers. The girl in that picture didn't have to worry where her next meal was coming from. The girl in that picture was happier and prettier. The girl in that picture is gone.

A German soldier also admires Sophie and the painting. He admires the girl she used to be. He forces Sophie and Helene to cook for his men, in exchange the family gets the uneaten scraps. His admiration leads to late-night talks with Sophie. She comes to see a softer side of a man that is supposedly evil. Maybe he can help her see Edouard again. Maybe Sophie is naive to believe this man can help her. But in times like this what is left but hope? In my opinion, this is where the mystery comes in. I wanted to be hopeful for Sophie, but I was also waiting for the other shoe to drop. When and how is her hope going to be shattered? Will she go to a prison camp like so many others in the town? Sophie's storyline alone is so engrossing and sad.

Before there is any resolution to Sophie's story, the present-day angle takes over. Liv Halston has an equally sad story to tell. Her husband David died suddenly four years ago. She spends her days holed up in the glass house he built. Occasionally copy-writing jobs and some charity work breakup the monotony of Liv's life. When she's alone in her bedroom, she stares up at the one thing she could never part with -- a painting. Yes that painting! Sophie's painting has changed hands multiple times and is now known as The Girl You Left Behind. In a twist of fate, Liv takes a chance on a renewed friendship and a chance on love. Mo, a rather eccentric waitress, comes back into Liv's life at just the right time. Mo is funny and messy -- just what Liv needs. Mo also becomes an accidentally roommate, one who isn't afraid confront Liv.

The handsome Paul McCafferty is immediately smitten by Liv. It's finally Ok for Liv to be happy again. But fate will intervene. Paul just happens to work for a company that hunts down stolen artwork. Want to take a guess on what his latest assignment is? I found that part to be just a little too convenient. He didn't intentionally fall in love with Liv. He didn't intentionally cozy up to her in order to get the painting back. But the author certainly intended for this to happen, which I found to be a little weird. Other than that plot point, I didn't have any problems with this book.

Ultimately, Liv feels betrayed by Paul. How can someone take away a painting that Liv has owned for years? A legal battle ensues over the painting. It's hard to understand an attachment to a thing, but Liv certainly has one. She seems attached to Sophie. She sees something in Sophie that no else does. She doesn't know everything about Sophie, but Liv feels a deep connection to the girl in the painting. Both women were left behind. Both women are clinging to the lives they used to lead. No matter the obstacles, both women are determined to find some peace.

I connected more with Sophie's character. Sophie did more with less. She didn't let the opinions of others bring her down. I found Liv to be just a bit annoying and I thought she whined just a little bit too much. Jojo Moyes did a great job of blending a historical narrative with a present-day narrative. It also has just the right blend of romance and mystery. Overall, this was well-written and at times heart-breaking. After reading this, I have to read Jojo Moyes' last book Me Before You !!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin). The Girl You Left Behind is also the October book club selection for She Reads.

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