For some reason, I was convinced I’d reviewed this ages ago, but apparently not. This assumption probably sprung from the fact that I read the book in a single night; something that seems to be happening a lot at the moment.
I first came across Jojo Moyes when I received a review copy of Me Before You some time ago. Reading the synopsis, I really wasn’t sure; it sounded a bit soppy and romantic for my liking, but actually it was excellent.
And I had exactly the same experience with The Girl You Left Behind.
Review after the jump
It’s worth mentioning here that I’m really not a fan of historical fiction. And by “historical fiction”, I don’t necessarily mean books set in the 1600s. I mean anything set anytime before about 1980. I’m not sure why I’m so weird about it, I just am. And I hate – hate – books set in wars. Even if they have nothing to do with the wars themselves, I just find them cloying and irritating. Usually, the only exceptions are factual accounts of war by people who were actually in them, because then I don’t find them over-sentimentalised; they somehow justify the emotions to my mind.
So, reading the blurb of The Girl You Left Behind, I got a sinking feeling deep in my stomach. It’s one of those books that focuses on two main protagonists who live decades apart and whose lives intertwine in a variety of intricate ways. The first girl, Sophie, lives in France in the war. Her husband, a talented artist studying under Matisse, is away fighting, but before he left he gave her a portrait of herself, which now hangs on the wall of the pub where she and her sister live and work.
We are introduced to Liv, the second girl, a few chapters in. Her husband, a famous architect, has recently died; but before he did, he bought for her a painting that they’d found when on holiday. Needless to say, it’s the same painting as the one Sophie stared at day after day as life became harder and harder in her little war-torn village.
The descendants of the original artist hire an investigation firm to locate the painting of Sophie and restore it to their family, ostensibly for sentimental reasons, though it’s obvious that they only want it now that the artist has become more well-known and his work is selling for a higher price. Liv is drawn into a difficult struggle as she tries to prove that she has the right to own a painting that has somehow come to mean so much more to her than just a picture of a woman she’s never met.
Like I said, I really wasn’t sure about it when I read the blurb. I still wasn’t sure after the first few pages – it was definitely what I’d call a “war book” – but I carried on, because it’s Jojo Moyes, and she’s usually excellent.
And oh boy, did she live up to form. I carried on reading in the bath (a sure sign of an excellent novel), slumped down on my bed once the water had turned too cold to stay there, and finished it with my feet resting on the pillow.
When I read the final page, I experienced that moment of disbelief you only get with the best books: when you lift your head up and look around, unable to believe that the rest of the world is still the same as it was before you ever picked up the novel.
I won’t tell you the words I kept repeating over and over again as I stuffed the book in my bag for the morning (straight into work to give to someone else; this is a book that needs to be read!), because it’d be a spoiler, but I hope you read it, and I hope you end up saying exactly the same thing.
It’s great. Get hold of a copy. Now.