The Girl You Left Behind is a little more intricate than Me Before You, with a narrative alternating between two story lines. The first story involves Sophie, a French woman in a small town occupied by the Germans during World War I. Her husband, a painter, has been sent to the front and all she has to remember him is a portrait he painted of her. But the portrait catches the eye of a German officer, and no good can possibly come of being too involved with the occupying soldiers. The second story line follows the painting to the current day, where it’s owned by Liv, a London woman with problems of her own. Her troubles get worse when the mystery of how the painting got from small-town 1917 France to modern-day London blows up in a very public way.
I have heard some critics of Me Before You say that is was predictable, and at times a little far-fetched. I think both those things are true and they’re true of this book, as well. I never know where any story is going, and I guessed pretty early into The Girl You Left Behind how the issue with the portrait would be resolved. But that doesn’t really matter in either book. The characters are so nicely drawn–complex and flawed, but sympathetic–and the stories move along at such a clip that both of these books are just very readable. And I mean that as a high compliment. I finished The Interestings by Meg Woltizer not long ago and while I was reading it I enjoyed it a lot and thought it was very well done. But the instant I closed the book each night I forgot all about it and lost all interest in picking it up again. I didn’t think about it when I wasn’t reading it, I didn’t long to get back to it, or feel the need to read “just one more chapter.” With The Girl You Left Behind, I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning on a Tuesday, desperate to find out what happened.
Also, both of Moyes’s books seem absolutely made to be turned into movies. I’m not sure what it is about them that make me think that–I’d be interested in hearing what other folks think makes a book seem ready for adaptation to the screen. But I think both of these stories would movies as compelling as the books are.
Kinsey’s Three Word Review: A sad, suspenseful page-turner.
You might also like: The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, which also deals with a painting of mysterious provenance, or any of Tracy Chevalier’s novels about historical figures, including The Girl With the Pearl Earring.