The Girl You Left Behind
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...
I started reading this as a complete change from my usual paranormal, fantasy and YA reads – I wanted something to clear my head out and to stop seeing vampires in every dark corner. What I found was a fantastic insight into an overlooked era of history, a beautiful romance, and a morally grey court-case over stolen art which has become one of my favourite reads of the year.
My favourite part of the book is definitely the time spent in 1916. Sophie and her sister are struggling to keep their family hotel and bar running behind the German lines in occupied France. Most books I’ve read set in that time period tend to focus on the atrocities taking place on the front, but seeing how life was like behind enemy lines for everyday French people is fascinating with the townsfolk treading a fine line under occupation and struggling to feed themselves something that is usually associated with the second world war. Sophie is strong woman of her time – having returned to her home town when her husband went off to war to help her sister and younger brother. She has to walk a fine line when the local Kommandant takes an interest in her. Sophie’s story is told in the first person which really lets you get under the skin of the character and the times and when the story jumps forward a hundred years after following Sophie for over 150 pages it does take some getting used to the third person narrative again.
The contemporary part of the novel is less dramatic and more soap-opera with Liv still struggling to get over the loss of her husband after four years, but the guy she meets in a bar happens to work as a specialist art-retrieval and his latest commission is a picture of Sophie sitting in Liv’s flat. However, Paul’s attempts to bring Liv out of her self imposed exiled are very sweet and I liked the way Liv seems to come life over the course of the book. The contrast between Liv coming to life and Sophie clinging onto life was a pleasing juxtaposition to the story. Towards the end the story moves between the two much quicker as Sophie’s completion has a direct impact on Livs.
I was completely enthralled from the beginning and just adored the historical story. Perhaps it was just the change in pace from my usual reads but the writing was engaging and the characters felt like friends by the end. A thoroughly entertaining read with a great mix of romance, mystery and history.
Recommended for fans of Sebastian Faulkes and Audrey Niffenegger 9 out of 10