Author: Jojo Moyes
Star Rating: 3/5
Genre: Literary Fiction/Romance
In the heat of World War 1, Sophie Lefèvre has come to know German occupation, hunger, and fear are normalities in her French hometown. Though all around her life seems bleak, she yearns for the day her husband comes home from the war and life can go on again. When the new Kommandant forces Sophie and her sister to provide meals for the soldiers, a portrait by her husband becomes her silent rebellion. Unfortunately, when the Kommandant lays eyes on this portrait, his reaction is far from Sophie's intentions in its display.
Almost 100 years later, Olivia Halston admires Sophie's portrait on her bedroom wall. Similarly to Sophie, the painting has become a beacon of hope and memories of a loved one. The painting was a wedding gift from Olivia's husband just before his untimely death. While navigating her grief and strife, she finds herself thrown into an unlikely court battle to save her most valuable possession-Sophie's portrait, The Girl You Left Behind.
“Do you know how it feels to resign yourself to your fate? It is almost welcome. There was to be no more pain, no more fear, no more longing. It is the death of hope that comes as the greatest relief.”
“This was the story of our lives: minor insurrections, tiny victories, a brief chance to ridicule our oppressors, little floating vessels of hope amid a great sea of uncertainty, deprivation and fear.”
This book had some serious ups and downs for me. I will preface that most of those issues were entirely my fault and not Jojo Moyes's. I went into this book blindly. I've never read anything by Moyes before, and set my expectations entirely based on the cover. Yes, I am aware that you're "not supposed to judge a book by its cover." However, I do find you can typically get a feel for the overall genre based on the cover.
I went into this one expecting a historical fiction novel with a heavy smattering of romance throughout. The first 50 pages are set in Sophie's perspective during the war, and I was quickly acclimated to the elegantly lyrical writing and plot Moyes began to develop. I was completely transfixed. The atmosphere was so gritty and real. Sophie was tackling incredibly hard moral questions very early and I fell in love with her right away. I wanted to experience what she did for the length of the book and try to understand what I would have felt in her shoes. Then... the perspective changed to Liv's. I was not at all expecting that.
Again, I am fully aware this is not the author's fault. Moyes likely had no control of the front cover, and the back cover would have warned about the dual perspectives. However, it is important to address because it affected my reading experience greatly. The POV change is a stark difference, and it happens very suddenly-almost out of the blue. I felt as if I was ripped out of a historical fiction, then placed in a contemporary. Perhaps too much time was spent between the first POV change? Even if I was expecting the time jump, I don't think I would have found it any more graceful.
Once I adjusted, the stark difference was actually commendable. Moyes created two characters in two settings so unique from one another, I actually questioned if the same author had penned the entire book. Sad as it seems, it's rare to find myself in the hands of an author who knows her characters so well. I really appreciated the work put into the two timelines' heroines.
Sophie is an incredibly clever and headstrong individual. For awhile, I was concerned that she'd be a weakly developed character, because I couldn't get a solid comprehension of who she was. Then I came to a realization. Sophie wasn't entirely sure who she was. We meet her at a pivotal moment. I liked being able to face challenges and grow into her character alongside her.
Liv is an entirely different character. I could tell that her voice was different from Sophie's, as I mentioned, but I never truly felt I had a grasp of her personality. She constantly acted on contradictory compulsions, and never seemed to have any comprehensible drive. I had trouble keeping up with her, and unfortunately, she never seemed to develop much as a character throughout the story. Her compulsions and obsessive behavior over the painting pretty much is what drove the plot and romance. This made everything feel just a little unrealistic and insta-lovey.
As the story progressed, I found myself ever more captivated by Liv's story. I enjoyed searching for the parallels along all of the twists and turns. I actually found myself wishing the book was a bit longer to give me a tad bit more. Moyes does a great job of tying up the ends here, but I really wanted this book to give me a good punch in the feels. Perhaps it would have if I had not experienced such a slump early on.
I know, so far this seems like a negative review, but it was difficult to put my thoughts together otherwise. There were merits in the book. The writing was very well done, Sophie was a wonderful character, and I found myself wholly wrapped up in both POV's by the end-regardless of the early set back. The Girl You Left Behind can be best described as a roller coaster. Between the highs and lows, I had to average it out at 3 stars, though it may belong somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. There is certainly a large niche of people that this book was handmade for. It was incredibly well done...it just wasn't quite right for me.
I will be trying out more works by Jojo Moyes in the future though. I simply loved Sophie's story, and I'm craving something more like it. I'm also hoping to step into another one of her books a little more prepared.
Have you read work by Jojo Moyes? What should I try next?