The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindI have to say, I was not expecting to love this book. Like it maybe, or more likely to be disappointed halfway through and feel obligated to finish it. It is not a perfect book by any means, and yet here I sit having finished the novel (in two days), and I am temporarily at a loss for words.

The Girl You Left Behind is about two women: One living in a German occupied town in France in WWI, the other a mourning widow in modern London. Both of them have lost the men they loved; one is off fighting a war with no word if he is dead or alive, the other died suddenly much too young.

The first part of the book is dedicated to Sophie, the Frenchwoman whose town has been occupied by Germans in World War I. Her husband, who is now off fighting in the war, was a painter. He had painted a portrait of Sophie in their happier days, and it now hung in her family’s hotel, reminding Sophie that she wasn’t always a skeletal being of fear and hunger. When the Germans commandeer the hotel, having Sophie and her sister cook for them every night, the painting catches the eye of the Kommandant, a man feared by the villagers.

Later we are confronted with a jolting change in time. Suddenly we are in England in modern times and introduced to Liv, who is now somehow in possession of the painting. She is a widow, struggling to move on, and clings to the painting as an emotional support. When she finally meets a man she thinks she could fall in love with, she learns he works for a company that restores paintings stolen in wartime to the families they belong to, and that her painting, The Girl You Left Behind, is being claimed by the family of the man who originally painted it.

This novel is two in one: a historical fiction account of what it was like to live in German occupied territory during WWI and the horrors that brings with it, and a modern court case driven thriller/mystery in the second half. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how I liked how lopsided it seemed to be…you never meet the present day characters until around halfway through the book, and then closer to the end it flips back and forth again a few times, but somehow it works.

I was reading the first half of Gone With the Wind (about the American Civil War) while listening to this novel on audio, and I think the wartime stories had a greater effect on me in both novels because of that. Both were terrible, bloody wars and it was difficult at times to read about them. It is quite graphic as it details the horrors of war…not gore from the front lines, but the starvation, pure fear, and destruction of a way of life that existed for those left behind.

*some spoilers in the following paragraph*

The modern piece wasn’t quite as good. To me it felt a lot more formulaic and bordered on unrealistic at times. Would Liv really have blatantly dug her heels in on the matter of keeping her painting without even considering the possibility of giving it back to the rightful family at all? I feel like there would probably have been moments of doubt whether she was doing the right thing, espcecially as those around her began to question it (and when she completely cut out Paul without even pretending to listen to what he had to say seemed odd to me, as they had really spent a lot of time together up to that point). Also how was Liv actually paying for everything? I feel like it was super improbable that she’d be able to get as far as she did financially from the spot she was in at the beginning (who would give her a second mortgage with so little money in the bank and presumably terrible credit). Why did Moe suddenly decide she wanted some space from her? And right when Liv needed her resilience and friendship the most? Because it made the dramatic timing of the plot right, that’s why. It was a little disappointing being able to see the blueprints behind the novel as I read, but those are my only complaints! Overall it was still a very good book and I will probably read it again one day.

My favorite character was Moe. Not only did she serve as the quirky silly friend, but she was just such a character! I could imagine her so clearly in my mind, and yet she was always surprising me. I loved how she came back into Liv’s life at the right moment and was able to bring her back to life a little bit, just by being there.

I would definitely recommend this book to a friend, as it was recommended to me. I have to say I enjoyed this book much more than Me Before You, and it gives me hope that Jojo Moyes has written other good books I’d enjoy. Any suggestions on what I should read next??

E.

Summer 2017 TBR – & the 10 Books of Summer Challenge

I was in the middle of drafting a summer 2017 TBR post when I came across the 20 Books of Summer challenge hosted by 746books.com. What a happy coincidence! So instead of the conservative 5 books I was planning to list, why not double it and see if I can finish them all? Here are the books I plan to read for this challenge (June 1st – September 3rd)::

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Some books have a seasonal aura about them, and for me The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy screams summertime. I first read it in the summer of maybe 2010 – 2011 era? I remember it being short, light, and absolutely hilarious. I’m really looking forward to a refresher.

A Study in Scarlett by Arthur Conan Doyle

So far, the only Sherlock Holmes I’ve read is The Hound of the Baskervilles, and to be honest, I wasn’t really impressed. Last week I was searching through Audible looking on something to spend my credits on and I saw the complete Sherlock Holmes collection read by Stephen Fry. It’s nearly 63 hours long! The first piece in the series is A Study in Scarlett, and I hope to have it completed by the end of the summer.

Finders Keepers & End of Watch by Stephen King

While on maternity leave earlier this year, I read Mr. Mercedes, the first in a trilogy of psychological/crime thrillers by Stephen King. While I wouldn’t necessarily say I LOVED Mr. Mercedes – because seriously, Brady Heartfield is messed up – but it sure was a page turner, and I’ve borrowed the next two books in the series from a friend at work, so I want to make sure I get them read and returned. Besides, I love Stephen King and would love to make a bigger dent in his body of work.

 

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

This is the book I am currently reading as an audiobook. It is a non-fiction collection of Neil Gaiman’s speeches, essays, and articles. From what I’ve read so far, it’s superb. It is also narrated by the author, which makes it 100xs better.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I was not planning to start this novel anytime soon, but after posting my new Classics Club reading list I was convinced to start it immediately. This book is over 1,000 pages long, so it may throw a wrench into this challenge, but oh well. I’m only 10 pages in so far and I already feel like I’m going to love it!

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

This book has come highly recommended to me by a friend from work, so I added it to my audible list. I can usually crank out at least one audiobook a month at work so this one will probably be up next. By the synopsis I’m not fully entranced, but my friend sings nothing but praises, so we’ll see how it goes!

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

I’m shamed to admit I’ve never read this book. Lately I’ve been seeing it everywhere, and I think it’s about time to remedy that. It is also on my Classics Club Challenge list, and it’d be nice to knock out a few early to give myself a great start!

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

I’ve been meaning to read this forever, and I have a feeling it’d be a great book to read in the summer (it’s about a road trip after all)…but I kind of want to leave this spot in the list open for any Steinbeck. I have a bindup copy of his seven short novels that I want to get through as well, so I’d be happy to read one of those instead. We’ll see what mood I’m in when we get to it :-)

The Fireman by Joe Hill

I originally read the first quarter of this book just after it was released, but for some reason I put it down and never picked it back up. I really want to finish it up! I read Horns a few years back and really enjoyed it, so I have high hopes for this one.