Review – The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo MoyesTitle: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes
ISBN: 9780670026616
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction
Origins: Pamela Dorman Books
Release Date: 20 August 2013
Bottom Line: Compelling drama about love, loss, and survival

“France, 1916: Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officers dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the paintings true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is—putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.”

Thoughts: One of the more fascinating aspects of the Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind is the World War I setting of Sophie’s story. Not much has been written about this first German occupation, although it is every bit as compelling – if not more so – than the second German occupation of France thirty years later. Ms. Moyes does an excellent job portraying the perilous line between resistance and survival that clouded townspeople’s perceptions and instilled suspicion towards any action that could be construed as helping the German invaders. With her position as a town leader and pub owner, Sophie treads that line more closely than most of her neighbors and friends, and the way in which she is enmeshed into the dangers and politics is heartbreaking indeed. Where Sophie’s story really shines is in the aftermath. Her willingness to risk literally everything to see her husband again is compelling drama at its finest. Not only that but the agonizingly slow way in which Ms. Moyes presents Sophie’s fate will keep readers on the edge of their seats, breathless with anticipation.

In addition to being a story about love and loss, The Girl You Left Behind is also about those gray areas of right versus wrong. Sophie’s choices are bleak and limited, damning her as a German sympathizer no matter what she does or does not do. Liv’s choices are not as dire, but in her battle for the painting, her options are just as limited. In both instances, the women are in no-win situations, labeled as money-hungry whores or worse by their supposed friends and neighbors. Liv in particular bears the brunt of the negative publicity and appears as the villain in the battle for the painting’s ownership. Yet, in both instances, and as so often happens in real life, the truth is never as clear-cut as these friends and neighbors believe, something Ms. Moyes drills into her narrative while reminding readers that nothing is black-and-white. It is not only an excellent reminder for empathy but also a fascinating study on the mob mentality and how easy it is to get lost in the hype.

Usually an effective narrative device, The Girl You Left Behind does suffer from the juxtaposition in characters and time. The present simply does not compare to the past. Everything about the story that occurs in 1916 is carefully crafted and remarkably poignant. The backdrop of World War I is refreshing, while the occupation by the Germans of a small French village is definitely unique. Sophie is strong, determined, and resilient, and the gray areas between resistance and survival that occur in an occupied town only add to the drama. Next to such a vibrant personality and vivid landscape, Liv and her personal drama are too trivial.

This is not to say that Liv’s story is not interesting. Her refusal to back down from the fight for ownership reveals a strong woman, one much stronger than she appears to be upon the first introduction, while her battle to move on from the tragedy in her life is touching. Yet, in light of the pain of separation, suspicion, betrayal, and eventual fate that beset Sophie, Liv’s story does not have the same gravitas. It is tragic, but not nearly as tragic or powerful as Sophie’s narrative.

In spite of the superficial weaknesses of the entire story, The Girl You Left Behind is a compelling exploration of love and the depths to which people will descend to protect that love. Sophie puts herself through hell on the mere chance of seeing her husband again, while Liv fights an impossible fight to protect the memory of her husband and their marriage. The refusal by both women to bow under pressure is completely inspiring. More importantly, while Liv’s story is the weaker of the two, it still makes for an amazing story of resilience and the most profound elements of love.

16 Responses to Review – The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
  1. rhapsodyinbooks
    August 15, 2013 | 11:08 AM

    I loved both the present and the past in this one, but I have turned into a huge JoJo Moyes fan girl! LOL

    • Michelle
      August 15, 2013 | 3:43 PM

      I really need to read her first one. From my understanding, it is definitely the stronger of the two.

  2. Andi @ Estella's Revenge
    August 15, 2013 | 1:23 PM

    I’m so sick of past/present switcheroo books. So. sick. of. it. That’s one reason I haven’t read this book yet.

    • Michelle
      August 15, 2013 | 3:44 PM

      I am definitely getting tired of it too. It was fun and interesting in the beginning, but now it is overdone and most of the time, it isn’t done all that well.

    • Jennifer
      August 16, 2013 | 7:35 AM

      Past/present switcheroo….oh my word they are everywhere lately aren’t they? I’m hoping that I like this book as I have it coming up soon as well 🙂 Another great review Michelle!

      • Michelle
        August 18, 2013 | 8:54 PM

        Thanks, Jennifer! I’m really beginning to get sick of the past/present thing and am hoping to avoid it in the next few books. But I still enjoyed this one.

  3. Ellie
    August 15, 2013 | 4:46 PM

    I am so torn about whether to read this book. On the one hand it is WW1 which I completely ADORE. On the other, it’s Jojo Moyes and all the hype surrounding her completely switches me off…Maybe one day I’ll read it 🙂 Great review, by the way!

    • Michelle
      August 15, 2013 | 9:58 PM

      Thanks, Ellie! I avoided Me Before You for that exact reason. I was able to read this one before it started getting hyped, and it did help. I know I did have high expectations for it though based on the buzz for her previous book. I hope you get to it one day though. The WWI sections are phenomenal.

  4. Leah @ The Pretty Good Gatsby
    August 16, 2013 | 8:57 AM

    I’m planning on finishing this one today – about 70 pages to go – and I’m really enjoying it. I do agree that Sophie’s story is the better of the two, but as a whole I’m extremely pleased with the book.

    • Michelle
      August 18, 2013 | 8:53 PM

      I’m so glad you are enjoying it!

  5. Lisa (Southern Girl Reads)
    October 7, 2013 | 11:23 AM

    This was my first Moyes book and I really enjoyed it. Alot. Admittedly, the first part had me more capticated than the second part but I it didn’t change how I felt about the story. I am planning to read Me Before You very soon and I’m looking forward to it. Great review!

    • Michelle
      October 7, 2013 | 11:31 AM

      I still need to read Me Before You as well, and I’m equally hesitant to read it given how many people loved it and excited to finally get to it.

  6. Cynthia Robertson
    October 7, 2013 | 2:14 PM

    I loved this book. I had her other one, Me Before You sitting on my TBR pile for months, but read it as soon as I finished The Girl You Left Behind, I liked it so much. Her lack of contractions is off-putting, at times, but she’s still and amazing storyteller.
    Nice, thoughtful review.

    • Michelle
      October 7, 2013 | 2:20 PM

      My plan is to read Me Before You in December. I’ve had it since it was first published and started getting so much buzz, but you know how it is. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as The Girl You Left Behind.

  7. Katie @ Doing Dewey
    October 20, 2013 | 10:58 AM

    I liked Sophie’s story much better too! The setting was so interesting, especially the way the townspeople could be heartwarmingly supportive or terribly cruel. I also thought Sophie came across as a lot braver and more intelligent than Liz. I still enjoyed Liz’s story, but a lot of the impetus to find out what happened next came from me wanting to know the ending to Sophie’s story 🙂

    • Michelle
      October 20, 2013 | 8:02 PM

      I was the same way. I kept reading just for Sophie’s story. It was great!

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