Bestseller Jojo Moyes returns with the stories of two women connected across the centuries in her new book, “The Girl You Left Behind,” and its e-book prequel, “Honeymoon in Paris.”
The action in “Honeymoon in Paris” takes place about four years before “The Girl You Left Behind.” Sophie Bessette is a small town girl who came to Paris to work in a famous department store, still in disbelief that a well-known artist like Édouard Lefevre would want to marry her. But the more of his friends she gets to know on their honeymoon, the more her confidence drops, and she wonders if he has affairs with all of the beautiful women he paints. About a hundred years later, in 2002, Liv Halston is having different struggles on her own Parisian honeymoon. After dating for just a few months, she’s married to David, a prominent architect. Their honeymoon has already been cut short for work, but when he disappears to business meetings in Paris, Sophie wonders if she’s rushed into a marriage with someone she barely knows.
“The Girl You Left Behind” starts during World War I with Sophie, who is living in a German-occupied French village while Édouard’s away at war. She’s struggling to operate her hotel on the tight rations the enemy has enforced, but when the German forces decide they’re going to eat there, food and supplies come in abundance. Sophie hates being forced to take care of the enemy, and the town starts to gossip that she’s on the German’s side and getting preferential treatment. Despite her hatred for the Germans, their Kommandant has an unusual interest in art, and she finds herself in conversations with him that she hasn’t had in years. He especially admires a portrait of Sophie that her husband painted, but she’s not sure if it’s the painting or the woman in it that’s captured his interest. When she learns Édouard has been sent to a work camp, Sophie must decide how far she’s willing to go to save his life.
In the modern day, Liv is now a young widow and can’t figure out how to move on after David’s sudden death. She’s living in the massive glass house he built for them along the river Thames in London, but despite outside appearances, she’s barely making ends meet. One day her purse is stolen at a bar and Paul, the kind man next to her, offers to help her home. They start dating, but when he ends up in her bedroom, a painting on the wall makes him bolt. Liv has no idea that Paul works for a company that recovers stolen art, and the painting, called “The Girl You Left Behind,” is one of his current cases. When Liv learns who he is, the relationship falls apart, and she hires a lawyer to fight to keep the painting David bought her in Spain years ago. While researching the history of the piece, Liv learns about Sophie’s life and becomes even more insistent on keeping the art, but the media and the entire country seems out to get her. Unless she can prove that “The Girl You Left Behind” wasn’t stolen in wartime, it will be lost to her forever.
Moyes does an excellent job with interweaving the two stories, especially in “Honeymoon in Paris,” where the connection is not as apparent at first. As different as their circumstances are, both women have been left behind in some way. While Liv’s situation is more permanent, Sophie doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her husband again, and the desperation of her wartime journey is intense. With so many novels centered on stories during World War II, it’s interesting to learn more about the First World War and especially the horrors that occurred in German-occupied France. While at first Liv’s character might seem lifeless, the battle for her painting – and Paul – bring her back and give her a purpose. Overall, “The Girl You Left Behind” is the best novel from Jojo Moyes to date.