Mandy's Book Club

Mandy's Book Club

This feature is named after one of our good friends who shares our passion for books and literature and who is working alongside us to share some of the greatest modern and classical literature, poetry and inspirational quotes....

The Girl You Left Behind

By Jojo Moyes

A century divides the two main female characters in this beautifully crafted novel - two women who are connected by a painting which evokes deeply strong emotions in those who own it.

During the First World War, Edouard the enigmatic painter who created the portrait, goes to fight on the French front line, leaving his young wife behind. Sophie, Edouard’s wife and the subject of the portrait, struggles to keep her sister and family safe from the Germans soldiers who now occupy the French village in which they live. Times and conditions are harsh, food rations are desperately low and tension is at the heart of every interaction - especially those between the French villagers and the enemy soldiers they are held virtual captives by.

Moyes’ characters are exquisitely drawn - the reader senses each twist and turn of Sophie’s emotions as she fights to keep her sense of identity, dignity and hope alive. A fight that is increasingly difficult as she is given the role of providing daily meals to some of the senior members of the German troops, including the Kommandant. There is an acute contrast between the dry, featureless black bread which is the staple diet of the villagers and the sumptuous feasts that Sophie serves to the Kommandant’s men each night. This stark contrast is as acute as the pain Sophie feels on suddenly learning that her husband has been sent to a prisoner camp.

Sophie’s poignant memories of when she first met her husband and of when her portrait was painted both strengthen her and haunt her, as she fights to keep the vibrancy of those memories alive against an increasingly black, bleak and desperation-infused surrounding landscape.

 The mystery of the picture grows stronger throughout the story - a picture that connects Sophie’s life in 1916 with Liv’s in 2006 - when Liv receives that same painting as a present from her young husband shortly before his sudden death.  Sophie’s and Liv’s lives may be separated by a hundred years but the tragedies both women face draw their stories inextricably together.

This is a book that highlights the simultaneous strength and fragility of the human spirit in times of extreme adversity and the significance of even the tiniest symbols of hope. A totally compelling piece of literature, which takes the reader right into the heart of the conflicting emotions. 

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