The first half of the novel is Sophie’s story. Sophie is the wife of painter Edouard Lefevre, who has left to fight in World War I. Beautiful Sophie stays back in their little town of St. Peronne with family. They attempt to survive as best as they can by running their little restaurant “Le Coq Rouge”. When the village is occupied by Nazi forces, and the German Kommandant in charge takes a fancy to Sophie and a portrait of hers (painted by Edourad), she must think of a way to use his ardor to reunite with Edouard.
The second half of the book shifts to modern times. It is 2006, and newly widowed Liv Halston, still mourning the loss of architect husband David, finds succor in a painting he had gifted her. She meets Paul McCafferty. As their friendship is about to escalate to something more, Liv finds out that he has been commissioned by the Lefevre family to find and repatriate to them the long-lost painting of Sophie Lefevre. That painting now hangs in Liv’s bedroom, the much treasured gift from her deceased husband.
Both the heroines of this book, Sophie and Liv, are in a sense left behind by the men they love. Their stories also have the common thread of Sophie Lefevre’s painting, a treasured possession much valued by both. Sophie’s story was interesting in its detail of life in those times, and remarkable for the courage displayed by her. Relatively Liv’s story failed to move; I found it a little choppy and deconstructed. And I couldn’t quite believe that artwork repatriation would generate so much public fervor/courtroom drama.
Sophie’s character is strong and selfless, and fairly practical-minded; she takes some very hard decisions to ensure survival. In comparison, I found Liv floundering in her sorrow and a little impractical. Her problems paled in comparison to Sophie’s, and I didn’t quite get her fanciful stance on the painting. Her character seemed inconsistent – she is on the brink of financial despair and unable to deal with it, yet firm enough to take on more debt to fight a courtroom battle over one painting. The romance between Paul and Liv didn’t ring true either which sort of sank the second half of the book for me.
The first half of the book flows smoothly; Moyes has some gorgeous word-play in here. The second half of the book displays inconsistencies which take away from the book. I really liked “Me Before You” and had high expectations for “The Girl You Left Behind”. While it is a pleasant read, “The Girl You Left Behind” doesn’t get quite as good.