The Girl You Left Behind

May 24, 2015

Thatched-Cottages-at-CordevilleThe Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes is a split story—past and present, mystery and love story—much in the way of A. S. Byatt’s Possession (1990), but without the nuance, depth, and brilliant ending.

It’s October 1916, just prior to battles of Somme and Verdun. The novel opens in a small town in France, which has been occupied by Germans. Sophie LeFevre runs what remains of the family business, Le Coq Rouge, with her sister Helene. The sisters’ husbands are at war, and have been unheard from for some time. Edouard LeFevre is a painter, and when the local kommandant demands Sophie to provide meals for his men every evening, he notices the portrait Edouard painted of his wife. How the kommandant reacts to this work ignites a series of events that ultimately affects dozens of lives over the course of the next 90 years.

The “current” parallel story centers around Liv Halston, who has possession of Sophie’s portrait, a honeymoon gift from her husband who has already died when the story begins, and we find Liv entrenched in a mourning period going on two-years.

Sophie and Edouard’s story is the keeper—the quintessential romantic love story that’s perhaps more believable because its set in the early 1900s when communication is more formal—verbally and via letter writing—with husband and wife expressing their undying love and through Sophie’s well-intentioned but ill-advised decisions, illustrating the length and depth to which one will go for love.

On the other hand, Liv’s 2006 “meet cute” with Paul McCafferty of TARP (Trace and Return Partnership) who’s working on behalf of Edouard’s descendants is too cute, and too predictable. Their story is useful only in the way that through them (on their own doing research and when they’re continually thrown together either by the case or their own lust, which is irritatingly and repeatedly followed by anger, frustration, and miscommunication), we learn more about the history of Sophie and Edouard. By the way, Liv finds herself on the “wrong” side of the “restitution of artworks” movement. Too much time is spent trying to justify her position, as though Moyes realizes Sophie’s stand is a tough sell. This is followed by a trial that should’ve ended before it began.

Moyes has a potent concept, painting two women who stand their ground, unwavering despite growing public judgment against them. But while Sophie’s choices are heartbreaking, Liv’s read as hollowly willful and reactionary.

Both stories wrap up neat and tidy, regardless of real life, real injustices with real consequences, and wounds that never heal.


The Girl You Left Behind




Kat Ward is publisher of Hometown Pasadena, a photographer, and the author of Amy’s Own, her first novel—though she’s hoping to finish her current manuscript Keeping Sane, and Other Aspirations before the end of the decade in order that she may not expire having been a “one and done” author. She resides with her teenage daughter (HP’s unnamed “teenage consultant) in South Pasadena.

Amy’s Own may be found locally at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, as well as on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

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Painting, top right: Thatched Cottages at Cordeville, Auvers-sur-Oise (1890) by Vincent van Gogh at Musée d’Orsay.



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