Jojo Moyes is fast becoming one of my favourite authors - I loved Me Before You and The Last Letter, and was really excited to read this new novel.
The Girl You Left Behind opens grippingly with the story of Sophie Lefevre and her family. It is 1916, and her French village has been occupied by the Germans - life is tough. Sophie's husband Edouard, an artist, is away at war and she and her sister Helene are struggling to make ends meet, running Le Coq Rouge, the village inn. Then a German Kommandant insists that they begin cooking for his men, much to Sophie's disgust. Chillingly, the Kommandant seems to take a liking to Sophie, and appears bewitched by the portrait Edouard painted of her, entitled The Girl You Left Behind. Can Sophie use his liking of her to get information about her husband... or is that a dangerous game too far?
The action turns to the present day and we meet Liv Halston, a young widow, who is trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life following the death of her beloved husband, David. The Girl You Left Behind now hangs on her wall, a gift from David, yet she has no idea of the story behind the painting... until the Lefevre family start trying to trace the missing artwork, claiming that it was looted illegally by the German army during the war, and should rightfully be returned to them. Desperate not to be parted from her husband's gift, Liv digs in her heels. Moyes cleverly reveals the story of Sophie, and the two women's lives become entwined.
I absolutely loved the first half of this book - I was gripped by Sophie's storyline. She is a great character - feisty and resourceful, proud, spirited and loving - yet fallible and vulnerable too. I found the second half of the novel much slower and in all honesty, a bit long. I wished that the legal part of the story could have been cut right back, I much preferred the relationship dramas to this element. I also lost some sympathy for Liv and wasn't quite convinced by some of her actions.
Overall, I enjoyed the book - Moyes writes brilliantly as ever - but for me, it didn't pack quite the same emotional punch as this author's previous novels.
Moyes wrote this novel following her bestseller 'Me Before You', which I've just read and enjoyed. I get the impression having skimmed some of her other books that this novel is more typical of her earlier work - a tearjerking historical romance with a contemporary story woven in. The book opens in World War I France, in 1916. Sophie Lefevre, a former 'grisette' now married to an artist, has left Paris for the safety of Normandy during World War I, only to find that her beloved village is invaded by the Germans. Sophie and her sister are forced to run a hotel for the German soldiers and cook for them - still, things could be worse, as at least the German Commandant Friedrich Hencken is a kind man, who loves art and talks to Sophie admiringly about her husband (who's languishing in a German prisoner of war camp), about the last portrait Edouard Lefevre did of his wife (called 'The Girl You Left Behind' and about art in general. The two, to Sophie's surprise, end up becoming friends (causing Sophie to be ostracised as a traitor by the villagers) and so, when Edouard is removed to an even nastier German detention camp (for some trivial crime such as giving another prisoner his lunchtime bread) Sophie decides that the Commandant can help her if she offers the ultimate sacrifice... but things don't go according to plan. Moyes then leaps forward to the present day for Part II of the novel, the story of Liv Halston, a tragic young widow whose husband has bought her 'The Girl You Left Behind'. After four years of misery, Liv begins a relationship with a hunky detective called Paul (American of course - it's a long-held belief in popular fiction that American men are sexier than Brits - not sure why this is so!). But her happiness is disrupted when it turns out that Paul is a detective helping to recover art treasures looted in wars - including 'The Girl You Left Behind', which Sophie's descendants claim the Germans stole. Liv determines to hang onto her painting at all costs, and soon finds herself in a situation where she might lose everything - or make a triumphant sweep to victory. Meanwhile we also learn more about what happened to Sophie, as Liv's story reaches crisis point and she becomes obsessed with restoring Sophie's reputation.
I very much enjoyed 'Me Before You', but I'm afraid I thought this book was dreadful. To begin with one is carried away by Moyes's energy and conviction - and I rather enjoyed the first couple of World War I chapters. But I soon began to find the story unconvincing - the noble French woman offering her body to the all-conquering German was too predictable, and there was little sense of period atmosphere - indeed, all the stuff about German detention camps, women being chased down the street for being 'collaborators', the resistance movement and the 'for Germans only' shops was much more reminiscent of World War II than World War I (I know small areas of France were occupied during World War I, but I don't think the Germans were quite the powerful, brutal conquerors that Moyes portrays them as). There was no sense of the war outside the village or that it was a war largely fought on French land, and the gormless villagers were patronisingly depicted (I agree with the reviewer who was reminded of 'Allo 'Allo). The modern story was simply incredibly boring - I couldn't feel any interest in spoilt, petulant Liv and found her financial situation unbelievable (at one moment she was virtually bankrupt, at the next she was happily paying for enormous law suits) and Paul was extremely dull - it was hard to work out his appeal other than that he was strong and handsome. Nor did the dead husband come across as any sort of meaningful character - I couldn't work out whether Moyes was implying Liv had an unrealistic view of him, whether they in fact weren't happy, or whether it had indeed been an ideal marriage. None of the characters had any complexity, and some aspects of the plot were plain silly - Liv's drunken first encounter with Paul, her sudden decision that a girl she'd known a bit at college should become her best friend and flatmate after a chance meeting, and the Commandant's clever plan for Sophie to escape particularly spring to mind. Also if David was a very rich architect wouldn't Liv have been reasonably well off? Finally, the ending was resolved WAY too tidily.
this was much more predictable chick-lit than the other two Moyes books I've read, and I feel that both World War I and Fauvist art deserve better and more subtle treatment. I think I'll avoid Moyes's historical fiction in future.
I feel bad about writing anything remotely negative about this book. I first read JoJo Moyes a few months ago when I read "Me before you" - a book that made me love, laugh, sob and grieve. I don't think I had ever read a book quite like it and I could not wait for the new novel.
I was lucky enough to get a pre-release and it arrived yesterday.......I read the whole book (400+ pages) in one day, finishing late last night.
I really liked the story of Sophie and occupied France, I could picture Le Coq Rouge and life in the first world war and I was so engrossed in her story I could not put the book down.
Then in the second part came Liv and the prolonged and somewhat dull court battle around the painting Liv was left by her deceased husband. The second part of the book bored me and I found myself almost speed reading through the pages to get back to Sophie.
I am sure the book will be enjoyed by many, the story is clever and is very well written, but my gripe is that I just wasn't moved in the same way 'Me before you' moved me.....I found parts of this story boring, drawn out and not required. I would have quite happily read 500 pages exclusively about Sophie and given it 5 stars.
I am sorry JoJo, but it just didn't thrill me like your last book.
on 2 May 2013
The rating is for readability and good writing. The book itself is badly flawed: plot-centred, the characters have to act in order to support the plot, which itself is interesting but historically questionable and full of coincidences . While atrocities were committed in the First World War, they were not organised and did not run to the equivalent of concentration camps.: in fact, the whole book is far more reminiscent of the last war. It is also full of cliches: the collaborating tart who is really a patriot (Baudelaire has a story), the woman sacrificing herself for her lover/husband - a wildly overused theme. Unlikely, too, is the intervention of the Kommandant. The heroine counts on his wide influence, but the Kommandant of the garrison in a small occupied town hardly had any wider authority than over the occupied population under him. Far too much detailed sex, down to each item of discarded clothing. Nor have I ever known that anyone who bought a stolen work in good faith is ostracised and attacked by crowds while seeking evidence of the provenance. There is also an echo of the Glass Room. Here too the German sends his mistress - who tried to protect her husband- to a camp,.the post-war, the architecture. etc
on 29 September 2012
This is the first novel that I have read by author Jojo Moyes. I am sorry to say that overall I was very disappointed. The premise - "two women separated by a century, united in their determination to fight for what they love most, whatever the cost" - intrigued me and on beginning the book I was immediately drawn into the life and story of Sophie Lefevre. She is a strong character, easy to relate to and easy to care about. Forced into an impossible situation in war-torn France she remains a likeable protagonist despite the actions she chooses to take. For the first hundred pages, I loved this book.
However, the story then leaps into present day London and the life of Liv Halston. Despite having also suffered heartbreaking loss Liv is an empty character, hard to empathise with. Ultimately, I just didn't care enough about her. For the next four hundred pages, the novel jumps back and forth between Sophie in 1916 and Liv in 2006.
The link between the two women - a painting - is not strong enough to integrate the lives of Sophie and Liv. The style of the writing changes so dramatically between the two stories that it is like trying to read two different books simultaneously. Perhaps writing two books instead of one would have been a better plan for Moyes - Sophie's story is strong enough to stand alone and had the writer chosen not to include Liv's story I would have loved this book with a full five stars. That's a shame.
on 24 July 2013
Separated by almost a hundred years this is a dual time frame novel about devotion, hardship and fighting for the thing you love most. Part one revolves around Sophie and her sister Helene in Occupied France during World War 1 and their struggle to survive the harsh winter, the lack of food and the German oppression.
When Sophie and her sister Helene are forced to serve German soldiers their evening meals in their bar the Kommandant takes an instant like to Sophie and her painting. Unfortunately and through no fault of their own Sophie and Helene are faced with the town's disapproval and eventually Sophie is faced with an impossible decision and the consequences of sleeping with the enemy and we're left on a cliffhanger.
In part two we're introduced to Liv, widowed, lonely and up to her eyes in debt she risks everything to keep the painting she adores, the painting of The Girl You Left Behind, allegedly stolen during war time and subject to laws of restitution.
I was hooked, completely drawn in; I wanted to find out what happens to Sophie, did she ever find Edouard? I hoped and hoped and that they would find the evidence they needed to for Liv to have legal title to the painting so much so I just had to keep reading - a real page turner with such a moral dilemma which raises the question - what would you do in Liv's and Sophie's position?
Although it's just a quote from a fiction novel...these are wise words, but so true:
"It's just stuff...The only thing that matters is people...All that really matters is who you love."
Although it didn't make me cry like 'Me Before You' did, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend if you're a fan of Jojo Moyes or if you enjoyed The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.
I chose to read this, purely because I absolutely loved her last book; Me before you. This book put Moyes on the map for me and geared my decision on choosing this as a read.
Our heart in this story is 2 dual narratives, one is Sophie Lefevre who lives in a small village in 1916 France, where the Germans are currently occupying. Times are hard and while her artist husband Edouard is out at war, her and her sister Helene are struggling in running the local Inn. The Germans soon come a knocking and 1 in particular takes an interest in Sophie and the portrait her husband painted of her apptly named "The Girl you left behind". Being forced to cook for the soldiers and having this man take this much interest in her while missing her husband so much grates on her but what can she do?
Our second narrative is that of Liv Halston, a young woman who lives in present day and is coming to terms with the death of her husband David. The painting that once occupied Sophie Lefevre's home in the 1910's now hangs up in Liv's home, a gift from her David. Oblivious to the rich history and story behind the piece now in her possession, Liv has become attached to the piece as a link to her husband and sees it as priceless.
However, the descendants of Sophie Lefevre have now traced back the painting to Liv's home and wish it back insinuating it was once stolen by the very Germans that occupied the French village of their ancestor and that they should rightfully have it back. The piece clearly means a lot to Liv and she is not so easily going to give it up. What we come to have portrayed is Sophie's story to Liv and how they both become one.
Cleverly woven together we see the mix of both women, their loss, strength, fears and love come to a head when the truth of what happened to Sophie is revealed.
Beautifully written just as Me before you but with a lot more waffle, slow parts which brought the whole book down and a little lacking in page turning moments nearer the end, it was just not in the same league as Me before you.
on 21 October 2012
Having recently read and enjoyed Me Before You by the same author, I was really pleased to receive a copy of this book to review. The book is set in two time periods, the first being in occupied France during the First World War and the second period modern day London.
Both stories revolve around a painting of Sophie Lefevre which was painted by her husband, Edouard. Whilst her husband is away fighting at the Front during World War 1, Sophie, her sister and brother are left to run a hotel which the Germans use for dining. The Kommandant takes a fancy to Sophie's picture and Sophie eventually has to make a choice in which she hopes to save her husband.
Nearly a century later the painting is bought by David Halston for his wife shortly before his untimely death. However, Edouard Lefevre's family want the painting back as they claim it was looted by the Germans and it rightly belongs to them. Liv becomes obsessed with keeping the painting and also finding out what eventually happened to Sophie. Like Sophie a century before, she has to make some difficult choices.
Although I really enjoyed Sophie's story, whilst reading I got the distinct impression the story was set in the Second World War and not the First World War. In particular when the two women were being transported, although it was not stated where they were headed, I could not stop thinking they were being transported to a concentration camp, which of course were not used then.
However, despite this, I did feel the book gave some insight into the difficulties faced by the town during the German occupation. They were all starving and yet had to hide a piglet from the Germans because it was against their rules to keep livestock. The scene where the local "prostitute" was denounced as a spy and paraded through the town beaten and stripped before being transported reminded me of the scene in Ryan's Daughter where she was also beaten when it was thought she was spying for the English.
I also enjoyed Liv's story, although I felt it was fairly predictable, especially her relationship with Paul. However, I was eager to find out if they got together, if Liv managed to keep the painting and more importantly what eventually happened to Sophie.
I thought the author did a good job of combining the two eras and I would definitely recommend this book to people who enjoy romance.
on 4 December 2012
The story starts in a small town in war-torn France when Sophie attempts to outwit the local German Kommandant, a man who will have a large say in her destiny. She misses her husband who is away fighting and when she and her family are forced to serve the Germans with food every night in her small hotel, her emotions are stretched as the Kommandant becomes obsessed with a painting done by her husband of a young Sophie.
The first part is left on a cliffhanger and we are then moved forward to the present time and find that the same painting is now hanging in the bedroom of Liv, who's deceased husband bought it for her as he thought the girl in the painting looked like her.
Unfortunately, this is where my interest started to wane. I loved the first part set in WWI and, even though the story goes back and forth, I did not enjoy it as much, somehow I could not warm to Liv and I found myself rushing through the story to read about what happened to Sophie.
Overall, I did like the storyline, I thought some of the characters were memorable, but I just wish that the first part had been longer and the second part had been shorter!
This is the third JoJo Moyes book I have read. I wasn't overly fussed by The Last Letter to your Lover but loved Me Before You. Having now read The Girl You Left Behind, I would say it is the best of the three I have read. I must confess, I have even put my son down for his sleeps earlier than normal just to read this book.
The book follws two females, Sophie Lefevre in 1914 occupied France, and Liv Halston in 2006 London. Sophie's husband has been drafted to fight in the war and Liv is a young widow. Both women are linked by a portrait of Sophie that has a dramatic impact on both their lives.
I really want to say what the novel is about but I really don't want to give anything away as this book is such a treat. I am not normally a fan of wartime stories but the Sophie segments are written on a personal level giving the reader an insight into the fear and feelings people of that time must have felt. I felt it was so well written and so compelling that I just did not want to stop reading. Another reviewer has said that they didn't find the situation between Sophie and the Kommandent convincing; I am in two minds over this, on one hand, I will admit to being disappointed in the Kommandent as I felt that maybe he just wanted to be accepted as a person rather than a uniform and therefore just wanted a closeness to someone, but on the other hand, I can see that desperation and fear could drive a person, ie Sophie to do anything to be reunited with her husband.
This is a great read whether you are a fan of JoJo Moyes or not and I can't think of anyone who it won't appeal to. I am already recommending it to all my friends for it's release later this year.