Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Audiobook Review: THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind

Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes
Narrators: Clare Corbett & Penny Rawlins
Publisher (audiobook version): Clipper Audiobooks

Read: March 08 - 27, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

In 1916 French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything - her family, reputation and life - in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie's portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting's dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened...

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most - whatever the cost.

My thoughts:

Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind is a dual time novel spanning almost 100 years, partly set in France during WW1 and partly in 21st century London. 

France, 1916: with their husbands fighting away at the front, Sophie LeFèvre and her sister Hélène are running their family’s bar and restaurant, Le Coq Rouche, despite dwindling supplies and the ever increasing oppression of their German occupiers. When the German army requisitions their hotel to have the soldiers’ meals prepared there, it puts the two women in a difficult position – on one hand they are unable to deny their occupiers, on the other they can ill afford to be seen as collaborators and traitors in their own village for feeding and housing the enemy. Things go from bad to worse when a German kommandant spots a portrait Sophie’s husband Eduard painted of his wife when they first fell in love. Initially drawn by the brushwork, the attraction soon threatens to become more personal, putting Sophie in a very dangerous situation.

London, 2006: Olivia “Liv” Halston, still struggling to come to terms with her husband David’s sudden death four years ago, has no knowledge of the history of the painting, “The Girl You Left Behind”, which David purchased for her on their honeymoon in Spain almost a decade earlier. Over the years, the painting has become a source of great solace for her, and she has formed a kind of bond with the woman the picture portrays. When Liv allows herself to fall in love with a man she met in a bar one night, she has little idea of the far reaching effects the encounter will have on her whole life. Through a bizarre coincidence she is suddenly caught up in a bitter battle over the true ownership of the painting, not only threatening her memory of happy times with her husband, but also her new relationship.

Moyes throws up some interesting premises with her novel – the power of art to capture and convey events in history for generations to come, and the true meaning of ownership. In one scene Liv, who sees herself as the rightful owner and guardian of the painting, points out a controversial issue: if all items which have been the spoils of war were to be re-possessed, then most famous historical artworks would be the centre of bitter court battles. Indeed, where would we stop – by relinquishing whole towns, cities, countries which have been occupied and taken from their previous owners? How can it be fairly determined what really constitutes rightful ownership? It did make me think, and I could relate to Liv’s plight. Although I must admit that I would have liked Liv to have a deeper connection to the painting rather than a random purchase – as it was, I could not fully comprehend her willingness to sacrifice everything for the painting, her house, her new love, her reputation.

As far as reading pleasure goes, I was totally captivated by the narrative of Sophie’s story. Having listened to the audiobook version of the novel, I take my hat off to the two narrators who did an outstanding job of bringing the characters to life. Especially Sophie’s life story was told with such feeling that I often had tears in my eyes as her fate unfolded. On that subject, I must admit that I enjoyed the historical parts of the story much more than the contemporary chapters, which at times dragged just a little – or maybe I was just so eager to find out more about Sophie’s fate that I had little patience for Liv’s emotional crises One big gripe I had with Liv’s story was that Moyes heavily relies on coincidence to unfold the main plotline, which makes parts of the story a bit far fetched. However, as my kids always remind me when I am too picky, this is fiction after all, and that aside I certainly enjoyed the ride. The Girl You Left Behind cements Moyes as an author I want to read more of in the future.

I read this book as part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge


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