The Girl You Left Behind is the title of a painting, and the focus of the whole story. Part One of the novel takes us back to 1916 in St Peronne, a small French town occupied by the Germans. It is the middle of World War I, and the close-knit community of St Peronne are having to cope with the presence of the enemy amongst them. Sophie Lefevre's artist husband Edouard is at war and she has returned from her marital home in Paris to help her family run their bar Le Coq Rouge. Sophie's most treasured possession is The Girl You Left Behind - her portrait, painted lovingly by her husband before he went away.
Sophie narrated her story, she tells of how she and her sister Helene are expected to feed the German soldiers, and how they daringly sneak bits of food for their children and other people in the community. When a new Kommandant comes to take control of the German troops, Sophie and he are drawn together by their appreciation of art and the painting becomes their link. Sophie hates the Germans, yet she sees a flash of humanity in the Kommandant, and it is this that becomes her downfall.
Part Two of the novel leaps forward 100 years and features Liz Halston - a thirty-year old widow who now owns The Girl You Left Behind. Liv still mourns her late husband David, and like Sophie she feels that the painting is their only real link - she would do anything to keep it. David bought the painting for her as a wedding present because Sophie reminded him of Liv.
I was so enraptured by Sophie's story in Part One that I felt almost bereft when all of a sudden the author took us to the present time, I wanted to hear more about Sophie, what happened to her? Did she find Edouard? However, after just a couple of pages of Part Two and Liv's story, I was just as absorbed. And, then the stories become interlinked, as Liv fights to keep the painting, Sophie's story is continued through the diaries and letters that she and her family members wrote all those years ago.
This is a truly beautiful story, often heart-breaking, sometimes heartening but always warm and written so very very well. Jojo Moyes has once again produced a novel that makes the reader really think, and also feel every emotion along with the characters. The research is impeccable and introduces readers to a part of history that is little known.
It is captivating - another triumph from this wonderful author. Bravo!
The Girl You Left Behind will be published on 27 September by Penguin Books.