Looking back, I’m pretty sure that over the years I have read umpteen Jojo Moyes novels, most enjoyably The Last Letter from Your Lover and Me Before You, which unquestionably took the her career into the stratosphere and really is a book that you should read if you haven’t already. Her rise as the doyenne of high quality, well written, chick lit is most definitely deserved. Moyes has a real talent for picking issues that are thought provoking and weaving a story around them, but in so doing she seems to avoid any of the pretension that I associate with Jodi Picoult, who I personally view as the queen of ‘hot topic’ literature. All this said and despite the hours I have spent with Jojo Moyes, she’s still not a writer that I actively seek out and I have no idea why.
I’m not sure how The Girl You Left Behind even ended up on the pile of books on my bedside table and my goodness it must have sat there for well over a year before I even picked it up. It was definitely a victim of my World War fiction malaise, but just as with The Nightingale, it didn’t deserve to be.
The Girl You Left Behind is a rather sad, sweet novel centering around a beautiful portrait of Sophie Leferve, painted by her husband Edouard in Paris before the First World War. In the present day Edouard’s talent has made him a painter of some renown and the painting, long since lost, now hangs in the bedroom of young widow, Liv Halstrom. When her home is featured in a magazine article concerning the architectural work of her dead husband, the painting becomes the subject of a repatriation case relating to the theft of art by the Nazi regime. With the backdrop of this case, the heartbreaking stories of these two women and the history of the painting itself are told, piece by piece.
When I think about Jojo Moyes books, as I sit here in my garden office, I realize that I buy them because they represent a reliable read and that’s achieved because her characters are utterly believable. The women she writes have the same problems, albeit exaggerated, as your own friends. You like them, nay love them, but you also embrace all their foibles and frailties. I know that I’ll always enjoy a Moyes novel, because the story will be engaging and thought provoking whilst also providing characters that are absolutely relatable, which is exactly what elevates her above other writers in this category.
I still believe that Me Before You is her best work to date, but this book was great and well deserves a read too.