Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Girl You Left Behind

 A poignant tale of love and perseverance in the face of adversity, The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes is a wonderful exploration into the strength of two women separated by nearly a century.

Late 1916, the small French village St Peronne has been occupied by the Germans.  Sisters Sophie and Helene, the owners of the town's hotel Le Coq Rouge, have been asked by the new Kommandant to provide evening meals for the German troupes.  Prone to small acts of defiance, Sophie is initially wary of the Kommandant and his motives, especially when he becomes fascinated with a portrait of her that had been painted by her husband Edouard.  Over time, and after many instances of the Kommandant's unexpected kindness towards Sophie and her family, they forge an unlikely, and dangerous, friendship.  Once news of her husbands imprisonment reaches her, Sophie realises that she must use her strange relationship with the Kommandant to her advantage.

Fast Forward to 2006 and Liv Halston is living alone in London, still grieving for her husband David who died four years ago.  When drowning her sorrows on the anniversary of David's death she meets Paul, unaware of his job as an investigator for a company that successfully reclaims pieces of art that had been stolen during war time.  Unfortunately, Paul has recently been commissioned by the Lefevre Family to track down Sophie's portrait, or as it is now known 'The Girl You Left Behind', which happens to hang on a wall in Liv's bedroom.  Not wanting to give the painting she treasures up, Liv enters a battle that pushes not only her finances to the limit, but forces every aspect of her her life into near destruction.

Even though The Girl You Left Behind sometimes fell into chick-lit by numbers territory, I still think it will appeal to both fans and sceptics of the genre. Moyes concocted intriguing characters and placed them in unenviable situations that were fascinating to read, and learn more, about.  In Sophie and Liv, Moyes has created two strong, stubborn, women.  Both of their unfortunate circumstances force them to rely on men who have questionable motives, and it is their stubborn nature, along with their faith, that keeps them going even when everything looks certain to end in heartbreak.  To that point, even the reader's faith is tested: Will Liv get to keep the painting?  What happened to Sophie all those years ago?

The Girl You Left Behind is certainly not faced paced.  However, it benefits from being slowly read and savoured.  Moyes has a wonderful ability to portray very distinct emotions through her prose.  Even though I didn't really get a sense of place from her descriptions, I knew at every turn exactly what her characters were feeling and this added an extra dimension to the story.  A brilliant read from start to finish, I would certainly be interested in reading more of Moyes work.

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