The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes

“France, 1916. Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. When she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes riven by fierce tensions. And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision. Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history. A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again…”

I’m a huge fan of Jojo Moyes. Her books are always incredibly varied in topic and each is thought-provoking, detailed and well-researched. Jojo has a gift for creating endearing and genuine characters and those in The Girl You Left Behind were no exception. The story starts with Sophie Lefevre, the manager of Le Coq Rouge, a hotel in St Peronne. Her husband is fighting in the war and she’s left to hold the increasingly-requistioned fort as German soldiers overtake the village – and then her hotel. Sophie and her sister Helene must cook for the men they detest, including the hated Kommandant. But as Sophie and the Kommandant start to spend more time together they start talking more personally, and the Kommandant spends time admiring the portrait Sophie’s husband Edouard painted of her. At great risk, Sophie attempts to trade the painting that the Kommandant has come to adore for her husband’s freedom…

… A painting that, in 2006, is all that keeps widow Liv Halston going sometimes. She’s struggling after the death of her architect husband and when she goes out one night she has a chance encounter with Paul, a kind man that Liv starts to develop feelings for. But even can’t she predict the twist of fate in store for her – Paul is working to reacquaint Liv’s painting with Sophie Lefevre’s descendants. When he comes face to face with the work of art he’s been trying to track down he can’t ignore the fact that this painting was supposedly requisitioned during the war and, if so, rightfully belongs to the Lefevre family. Things quickly dissolve between the two as Liv refuses to be parted with the painting and an expensive and explosive lawsuit ensues that starts to ruin more than one part of Liv’s life.

Jojo brings the story to a detailed and satisfying climax as the true owner of The Girl You Left Behind is made apparent – and we finally found out what happened to Sophie and her husband Edouard in 1916. Jojo’s latest book is a stunning combination of historical and contemporary fiction and an compelling, emotional page-turner.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

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