The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2012)

the girl you left behind

I spent a lovely rainy day re-reading the wonderful book The Girl You Left Behind, for an upcoming book club meeting. I am a fan of Jojo Moyes books (you can click on the “Jojo Moyes” tag on the right-side of this page for a list of all of her books that I have reviewed) and always enjoy her novels, some I have read several times, since she always tells a compelling story that has a happy ending…and sometimes you need a happy ending.

The Girl You Left Behind is two stories intertwined into one novel — the first story is a historical fiction tale about a French woman living through the German occupation of her small town in rural France during WWI; the second story about a young widow struggling to hang on to her memories of her late husband, while simultaneously trying to move her life forward.  The two tales are connected by the most unlikely of reasons…that they both have been the owners of the same painting, only one hundred years apart.

The books opening chapters find our first heroine, Sophie Lefevre, cold, starving, exhausted, and fearful. She, her sister, brother, niece and nephew has been imprisoned in their small town, living under the cruel and terrifying rule of the occupying German army. With her husband and her brother-in-law off fighting in the trenches, Sophie and her sister Helene are trying their best to keep their family safe and healthy despite the horrific conditions the Germans have imposed on their village. Sophie is a pillar of her community, constantly risking her life with acts of resistance against her German oppressors: sharing food, passing news, hiding family heirlooms, saving lives of allied soldiers, and more…all acts that could get her and her family killed or interned in a work camp.

When a new German Kommandant — a cultured man — comes to town, he becomes taken with Sophie, fascinated with both her fiery protection of her townspeople, but also with her pre-war life as the wife of a famous artist, Edouard Lefevre. In fact, it is a portrait of Sophie painted by her husband, one of her few remaining possessions not requisitioned by the army, that seems to most captivate the Kommandant.

His fascination with Sophie leads the Kommandant to create more and more ways for their paths to cross. While this makes Sophie family a target of rumors and anger; it also means that for the first time in years there is extra food for the children, firewood in the winter, and more protection from the unruly soldiers in town. Sophie and the Kommandant enter a delicate truce, his affection makes her life easier, and her presence brings him comfort. Sophie leads her family down a dangerous road, where their safety becomes more precarious than ever.

Fast-forward to London, circa 2012, where the portrait of Sophie, titled The Girl You Left Behind, hangs on the wall of Liv Halston’s home. The painting is a beloved souvenir from Liv’s honeymoon with her husband David, who died just four years after their wedding.  Liv is struggling to move past her grief and — one night — takes a risk on a man, Paul. The two begin a love affair that is stopped in his tracks when Paul, an recovery agent for art stolen by Nazis — sees The Girl You Left Behind and recognizes it as stolen.

Soon Paul and Liv are on opposite sides of a legal battle for the painting, Paul argues it must be returned to Sophie Lefevre’s ancestors and Liv arguing it was purchased in a legitimate sale and is rightfully hers. Soon both of them are delving deep into Sophie’s story to find out what happened to her and The Girl You Left Behind. The more she learns about the woman in the painting, the more Liv becomes determined that she must hold on to the painting, both as a reminder of David and to protect the legacy of a brave woman who lost everything in the act of trying to save her family.

The book is an excellent, if emotional, journey into the realities women face during wartime, and the risks that women sometimes must take to protect the people and things they love.

Advertisements

After You by Jojo Moyes (2015)

Two weekends ago, exhausted from an extended holiday vacation, I spent a Sunday afternoon in bed watching movies that my husband and sons had declared –loudly! — that they wanted no part in watching, namely tear-jerker and chick-flick films.

movie-poster-me-before-you

One of the movies I watched was the film adaptation of Jojo Moyes Me Before You. The movie follows the book very closely and was well-cast and enjoyable (if very sad) to watch. As soon as I completed the movie, I added the book’s sequel, After You, to my library hold list and read it yesterday. Below is a re-post of my review of that novel.

Enjoy!

Originally posted on November 18, 2015 +++++++++++++++++++++

SPOILER ALERT: This post may contain a few spoilers about the Jojo Moyes bestseller, Me Before You, because it would be quite hard to write about the sequel After You without talking about about its prequel.

This past Saturday I spent a lovely afternoon curled up with the new Jojo Moyes book, After You. It was a delightful read, if a bit of a tearjerker, completely worth staying up late that night to finish. This book is the sequel to her previous novel, Me Before You (2012) which was also a heartbreaking sob-fest. While this book does stand alone if you were interested in reading it without completing the first novel, the two really are a set and I strongly recommend that you read them in order.

At the opening of After You we find Louisa Clark eighteen months after the heartbreaking loss of her beloved boyfriend Will. After traveling the world for a bit, Louisa has moved to London and is living a meager existence in a dingy flat, working a dead-end job at an airport bar, drinking her nights away. She is at a complete loss for how to put her life back together. Distanced from her family and Will’s, she has cut herself off from life and is making no effort to move forward. Soon a series of shocks and surprises mean the Louisa can no longer hide behind the veil of her grief. She is forced to take control of her life, even if it means that she makes a bad choices and mistakes along the way.

Told in first person by Louisa, the story almost feels like Louisa’s diary as it catalogs the ups and downs of her life as she tries to get a handle on her grief and depression. What emerges is an honest portrayal of how one woman deals with “one step forward two steps back” aspect of loss. Readers get a front row seat to Louisa’s struggles, her confusion and constant insecurity about whether she doing anything right. More importantly, we get to see Louisa’s small triumphs as she slowly moves out from under her sadness. And it in these moments, when Louisa’s life starts to look upward, that the novel really outshines it’s predecessor. In the first book, Louisa has such a hard time of things and suffers so much — humiliation, mental distress, familial stress and (of course) guilt and grief — how wonderful to finally see Louisa vindicated! She is starting to have good things come her way and is so deserving of them.

The book is lovely and very touching. Although the subject matter is dark, there are many moments of levity and laughter as well. In its lighter moments, Louisa’s story faintly echoes Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary since readers get to witness not just the darker moments of her journey but also get to laugh at her crappy boss, her bad fashion choices, and her rag-tag group of friends and loved ones.

I love all of Jojo Moyes books. Even when the topics she writes about are serious, her books still manage to be touching, as well as fresh, quirky and fun. While there are definitely tears to be shed while reading any of her work, Moyes always leaves us with a hopeful ending. Her characters may not have found love and happiness at the end of every book, but it seems likely they will find both soon. (Among my favorites of hers are: One Plus One, Ship of Brides, and The Girl You Left Behind.)

after-you-book-cover

Sheltering Rain by Jojo Moyes (2002)

I love the work of British novelist Jojo Moyes, I find her writing to be the perfect mix of romantic and realistic: endlessly hopeful that love with always win in the end. I have read almost of of her work and have reviewed three of her novels on this blog; you can find all three under the tag “Jojo Moyes” on the right-hand side of this website.

Sheltering Rain is Moyes’ first novel and while it is not nearly as fine-tuned and lovely as some of her later work, it was still a great read, easily transporting me from a 100+ degree day by the pool to the cold, rainy Irish countryside where I followed the story of three generations of Ballyntyne women.

Using her now signature writing device, Moyes tells the story of the family matriarch, Joy, using flashbacks to describe her young adulthood, meeting her husband, and the early years of their marriage. These stories serve to soften the somewhat rigid, harsh woman that Joy has become late in her life; the woman that her granddaughter Sabine first comes to meet at the start of the story.

Sixteen-year-old Sabine, the family’s youngest women, tells most of the present-day action from her point of view. A tumultuous and angry teenager, Sabine has been sent unwillingly to live with her elderly and estranged grandparents in a rural town in Ireland. She is furious at her mother, Kate (who she blames for their less-than-perfect life in London) and she spends her early weeks in Ireland sulking and refusing to build relationship with her grandparents. Slowly, among the family’s neighbors, friends, and archives, a more complete picture of who her mother and her grandmother really are emerges and Sabine learns that it is lovely — if, at times, complicated — to be a part of a large family.

Interspersed with Sabine’s account are stories told from her mother Kate’s point of view. Kate fled her parent’s home at eighteen and has tried to make a life for herself and her daughter as far — physically and emotionally — from the one she had as a girl. Now that her daughter is living a life very similar to the one she abandoned, she must confront the painful past she shares with her family.

All in all, Sheltering Rain is a nice novel. Even if it’s not as wonderful as some of the author’s other books, it is still an great romantic novel. Within the pages of this first novel are some of the things that will go on to define Moyes’ later, more substantial novels: including her wonderfully drawn characters, her great love stories, and her belief that unveiling secrets can heal relationships.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (2014)

After finishing seven gruesome murder mysteries in ten days, I needed an antidote to so much dark material, I needed to read something that was kind, light-hearted, and had a definitively happy ending. I turned to one of my favorite authors, Jojo Moyes, who never fails to deliver a readable, well-written, intensely personal but ultimately lovely stories. (I have reviewed two other books by Moyes here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1W and here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-3T).

In One Plus One, we meet Jess Thomas a young mother of two children — a son Nicky who is the victim of horrific bullying, and a daughter who is a math-prodigy, Costanza — who is working feverishly to provide her children a good life. Jess works almost around the clock at three jobs to be able to keep the lights on and food on the table. Despite living in a rotten town in a government managed home, despite worrying constantly that her children will beat up at school or her house burglarized, despite round-the-clock worries about money and bills, we find Jess to be a kind and relentlessly optimistic woman. Jess is certain that doing the right thing and working hard will lead her family into a better life…eventually.

In real life, Jess sees everyday that no matter how hard she works to get ahead she always seems to fall further behind. When she takes a night job, she must constantly feel panicked that her children alone at home will be hurt. When her children need to get to the free medical center, it requires emptying her bank account to pay for the cross-town bus. When her daughter gets a scholarship to a private school, but Jess must find hundreds of dollars just to sign her up (not to mention the prohibitively expensive books and uniforms).

Jess does not want to perfect life, or even an easy life: she just wants a good, safe life, one where her children happy and her home safe. Jess is completely content to work very hard, and she is even willing to suffer the indignity of scrubbing toilets and serving booze to drunks, if it brings them all stability and peace of mind.

Throughout the story Jess is tested again and again with mishaps, emergencies, financial hardships, and embarrassments but she perseveres, knowing her kids will be better off for it. Along the way she finds a kind man who just might help ease the loneliness and stress of trying to forge a new life.

 

The Last Letter from your Lover by Jojo Moyes (2003)

A fan of Jojo Moyes and all of her books, I was surprised to learn that I had missed reading Last Letter all of these years. (You can read a post about her most recent book here: https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/after-you/ ) I was beyond pleased to finish this lovely story over the past two days, and as always with Moyes’ books, glad to have the tissue box close at hand.

The book contains two stories: one taking place in the early 1960’s and the other in 2003. In the first story we meet the lovely, wealthy Jennifer Stirling a trophy wife of an older husband, locked into a largely loveless and restrictive marriage. She suddenly finds herself swept up in a passionate affair with a globe-trotting journalist named Anthony, experiencing for the first time a wild, uninhibited romance. Jennifer knows, however, that the social constraints of the time make it impossible for her to keep a lover or to leave her husband. Over the months, their love does not dim, but begins to grow stronger; kept alive in a series of emotional raw and startling honest letters that Anthony sends to her. “You are a source of sustenance for me,” he writes “if we are to be allowed only minutes and hours than I want to etch each of them onto my memory with exquisite clarity so that I can recall them in moments” when we are apart.

The relationship deepens and soon the two begin a to dream of a life together. When a chance to start a life together presents itself Anthony begs Jennifer to run away with him, sending a letter asking only that she meet him at the train station where he will be waiting with a ticket for her to join him. But fate intervenes, through a series of near-misses, lies, misconceptions, and accidents the two never are able to start a life together. Their love — and their letters — are shut away and their lives rebuilt as best as possible.

The story then moves forward to 2003, where we meet Ellie. She is a London newspaper reporter trying to bolster a career that has been slipping recently due to her preoccupation with a married man she has begun an affair with. Ellie finds some of the letters Anthony wrote to Jennifer more than forty years prior and something is ignited within her. Ellie becomes obsessed with the letters, their writer and recipient. Using her journalistic skills and contacts she finds first Jennifer and then Anthony. As she works to shed light on their maligned romance, Ellie comes to see that the burning, consuming true love that Jennifer and Anthony shared is not what she has with her married lover. Reading Anthony’ letters sparks a desire deep in Ellie’s heart; she longs to be loved and cherished as Jennifer was. More than forty years after they were written, the heart-wrenching love notes still have the power to change the lives of the book’s characters, spurring them to make up for “missed chances” and avoid their “lives being wasted” any longer.

After You by Jojo Moyes (2015)

SPOILER ALERT: This post may contain a few spoilers about the Jojo Moyes bestseller, Me Before You, because it would be quite hard to write about the sequel After You without talking about about its prequel.

This past Saturday I spent a lovely afternoon curled up with the new Jojo Moyes book, After You. It was a delightful read, if a bit of a tearjerker, completely worth staying up late that night to finish. This book is the sequel to her previous novel, Me Before You (2012) which was also a heartbreaking sob-fest. While this book does stand alone if you were interested in reading it without completing the first novel, the two really are a set and I strongly recommend that you read them in order.

At the opening of After You we find Louisa Clark eighteen months after the heartbreaking loss of her beloved boyfriend Will. After traveling the world for a bit, Louisa has moved to London and is living a meager existence in a dingy flat, working a dead-end job at an airport bar, drinking her nights away. She is at a complete loss for how to put her life back together. Distanced from her family and Will’s, she has cut herself off from life and is making no effort to move forward. Soon a series of shocks and surprises mean the Louisa can no longer hide behind the veil of her grief. She is forced to take control of her life, even if it means that she makes a bad choices and mistakes along the way.

Told in first person by Louisa, the story almost feels like Louisa’s diary as it catalogs the ups and downs of her life as she tries to get a handle on her grief and depression. What emerges is an honest portrayal of how one woman deals with “one step forward two steps back” aspect of loss. Readers get a front row seat to Louisa’s struggles, her confusion and constant insecurity about whether she doing anything right. More importantly, we get to see Louisa’s small triumphs as she slowly moves out from under her sadness. And it in these moments, when Louisa’s life starts to look upward, that the novel really outshines it’s predecessor. In the first book, Louisa has such a hard time of things and suffers so much — humiliation, mental distress, familial stress and (of course) guilt and grief — how wonderful to finally see Louisa vindicated! She is starting to have good things come her way and is so deserving of them.

The book is lovely and very touching. Although the subject matter is dark, there are many moments of levity and laughter as well. In its lighter moments, Louisa’s story faintly echoes Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary since readers get to witness not just the darker moments of her journey but also get to laugh at her crappy boss, her bad fashion choices, and her rag-tag group of friends and loved ones.

I love all of Jojo Moyes books. Even when the topics she writes about are serious, her books still manage to be touching, as well as fresh, quirky and fun. While there are definitely tears to be shed while reading any of her work, Moyes always leaves us with a hopeful ending. Her characters may not have found love and happiness at the end of every book, but it seems likely they will find both soon. (Among my favorites of hers are: One Plus One, Ship of Brides, and The Girl You Left Behind.)