The Girl You Left Behind (Penguin Books LTD (Great Britain), 2012, Viking Penguin (USA), 2013) is the first Jojo Moyes’s book I’ve read. I’d been reluctant to read Moyes due to plagiarism allegationsand likely will not read The Giver of the Stars for those reasons, but I did enjoy The Girl You Left Behind. Written in a comforting and easy style, The Girl You Left Behind is a quick and engaging read – a candy book that had the potential to carry more of a punch but never quite swung.
The novel opens in 1916 France where Sophie Lefevre is running her family’s hotel with her sister while their husbands are fighting in the war. The Germans have seized her town and requisitioned the hotel, forcing her to serve the troops everything evening. Her anger and resentment spill out in dangerous and defiant ways. The new Kommandant is different – he knows and appreciates art, and he engages her in conversations about the art scene she and her husband, Edouard, had been a part of in Paris. They form a connection. At the heart of that risky connection is a painting by her husband that hangs in the hotel. The defiant, proud, and sexy girl in the painting is a far cry from the shell of a woman that stands before him, but it is undoubtedly Sophie. An obsession is born. Pushed to the edge of desperation, Sophie makes a choice that smears her name and wipes her from history – nothing left but the painting.
That painting is at the heart of another “war” nearly a century later. Liv Halston’s husband, David, had purchased the painting on their honeymoon. After four short and sweet years, he unexpectedly died – his beautifully designed house and the painting all that remains. Depressed and quickly becoming desolate, Liv tries to move on. When Paul enters her life, she begins to see there is hope. And then he sees the painting. Paul works for a company that tracks down and returns stolen works to their rightful owners, and he’s been hired by the Lefevre family to recover Edourard’s The Girl You Left Behind. As the legal battle over the potentially stolen artwork unfolds, Liv and Paul work to track down what happened to Sophie – the tortured battle lines between them clearly drawn. If the artwork was stolen by the Kommandant, it must be returned. But what if it wasn’t? What happened to Sophie?
The moral dilemmas presented for both Sophie and Liv are rife with missed opportunities; this is the area where the book could have been elevated beyond candy, but these sections are brief and glossy – merely paying lip service to the very real and serious issues of the treatment of women and stolen art during wars. While I wish certain aspects had been given more life, I’d still recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction with a hint of mystery and romance. I’ve heard The Girl You Left Behind is a bit different from Moyes’s other works, so keep that in mind if you’re expecting it to be another Me Before You.