Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes
Jojo Moyes
The Girl You Left Behind
Pamela Dorman Books / Viking / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-670-02661-6
Publication Date: 08-20-2013
370 Pages; $27.95
Date Reviewed: 09-18-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  General Fiction  Mystery  

Editor's Note: I know that most readers expect to find a different sort of book here. Jojo Moyes, like Dan Simmons, writes books that are hard for her publisher to classify. I'd be quick to put them into the category of Great Story, Told Well, Hard to Put Down. This book has everything you want in a fine ripping yarn.

It's always easier to make a decision than to live with the aftermath. And once we have set our sights, willingly, wisely — or not — down one path, that choice and those that follow gain a feeling of inevitability.

With events unfolding nearly one hundred years ago and in the current day, Jojo Moyes new novel, 'The Girl You Left Behind,' looks at the problematic choices we make and their unruly offspring. In a story comprised of stories that include historical settings, modern-day legal shenanigans and the emotional costs of just trying to be alive, Moyes crafts characters whose ordinary lives are extraordinarily engaging.

'The Girl You Left Behind' begins in the midst of World War I in the village of St. Pérron, France — occupied by the Germans who rule roughly, but not so cruelly, over the French villagers. Sophie LeFévre runs Le Coq Rouge while waiting for her husband, Édouard to return from the front. Her portrait becomes the object of some obsession for the surprisingly gentlemanly German Kommandant. In the 21st century, Liv Halston receives the portrait as a gift from her husband, shortly before he dies. Spotted by the artist's heirs, it becomes the focus of a legal battle, and the locus of a complicated mystery.

Moyes takes her time crafting the historical setting and set of characters, imbuing the story with a sense of tension and urgency as well as emotions. For all we might think we know about the first World War, Moyes has managed to find a scrabbly, fascinating bit that has thus far gone under the cultural radar. The first portion of the book is told in the first person, from the perspective of Sophie LeFévre. It's a smart, immersive choice. Tension is the village run through a variety of fault lines; between the generally, but not always peaceful Germans and their unwilling hosts an between factions within the village as jealousy and suspicion pit neighbor against neighbor with accusations of collaboration. Moyes takes us just to the edge of the known and then picks up the story in the present.

In the present, we meet another unlucky woman, Liv Halston. She's been a widow for four years after her young husband, a brilliant architect, died suddenly. She takes a housemate, then meets a man, but events don't pan out as she hopes. Soon enough she's on the wrong side of an art custody battle, vilified in the press and on the ropes financially.

Moyes' plotting in 'The Girl You Left Behind' is simply superb. Every character is caught up in both right and wrong, and as the stories in the timelines wind closer, she manages to ratchet up the tension while keeping events on both sides of the divide compelling and low-key but rife with urgent high stakes for the characters. And in spite of the fact that the book combines a variety of different tones and genre elements, she brings it all together quite seamlessly with great characters and an intricate unfolding of events.

No matter what sort of book you think you like, you're bound to find some element of that book in 'The Girl You Left Behind.' But more importantly, Moyes simply knows how to spin a great set of stories into a single, exciting tale. She explores bits of the world generally left unseen with characters who ring engagingly true. Out of the stuff of life, she weaves two different times into a single, smart and very satisfying story. When it comes to reading decisions, 'The Girl You Left Behind' is easy, with an aftermath of new memories from lives you might not otherwise have had a chance to live.

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us