One From the Archive: ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ by Jojo Moyes ***

First published in September 2012.

Author Jojo Moyes is best known for her 2011 novel Me Before You. Indeed, the first few pages of her latest book, The Girl You Left Behind, are crammed with its reviews. Her newest offering evidently has a lot to live up to.

The Girl You Left Behind is split into two sections, and opens in the town of St Péronne, Picardy, in October 1916. The first person perspective of Sophie Lefèvre launches the reader straight into her story. At the outset of the novel, Sophie is awoken by her sister, Hélène, when their younger brother Aurélien is roughly questioned by German soldiers in the courtyard of their home. ‘The presence of a Kommandant suggested these were not just drunken soldiers looking to take out their frustrations with a few threats and knocks: we were in trouble’. This scene occurs after German soldiers hear of the family’s liberation of a pig from a local farm, whom they are ‘fattening’ up.

From the start, Sophie is presented as rather a headstrong character, who has no qualms about putting the Kommandant, Friedrich Hencken, in his place. She is a likeable protagonist, and her narrative voice feels incredibly realistic. The first section of The Girl You Left Behind is evocative of time and place from the outset. Sophie’s husband, a painter named Édouard, has gone to fight at the Front, as has her sister’s husband, Jean-Michel.

Sophie travels from Paris to her rural hometown, now occupied by the Germans, to stay with her sister and to help her run the family’s former hotel, Le Coq Rouge. Here, the girls are imposed upon by the German soldiers, who demand that they are fed in the hotel’s restaurant. Sophie, angry with this decision, is alarmed when she finds that she has more in common with the Kommandant than she first thought. She is forced to make difficult decisions throughout the book, and what she decides upon reaffirms her position as a realistic character.

The second part of the novel switches to London in 2006, where we meet the character of Liv Halston, a thirty-year-old widow still mourning her husband David. Liv is the owner of one of Édouard’s paintings, ‘The Girl You Left Behind’, which shows Sophie as she was when the couple began courting. Here, discrepancies begin to appear – what is called a ‘business lunch’ ends at quarter past eleven at night, for example. This modern-day story is nowhere near as vivid or captivating as Sophie’s, and little compassion is built up for Liv, despite the presence of her sad story.

The historical detail which Moyes has woven into the novel from the outset works well, and has evidently been well researched. She includes such elements of wartime life as the meagre rations, the Germans renaming streets in the region, and processions of prisoners making their way through the town. Moyes captures well the unfairness and prejudices of the wartime situation. The only drawback with regard to the first section of the novel is that portions of the dialogue, particularly those between Sophie and Édouard, feel slightly too modern for the time period in question.

To conclude, the second part of the novel is almost dull in comparison to the first, and whilst Moyes has tied both stories together well, one cannot help but think that The Girl You Left Behind would have been much stronger had Liv never been introduced.

Purchase from The Book Depository

Ravenscliffe is the standalone sequel to Jane Sanderson’s debut novel Netherwood. The novel has been publicised as ‘perfect for readers of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore, as well as fans of period dramas like Downton Abbey’.

Ravenscliffe opens in Yorkshire in 1904, in a small town named Netherwood. The story begins with a very well written description of the mining town, with its ‘spiteful, unruly gangs of hawthorn’ and its three major collieries. The main protagonists of the novel, Anna Rabinovich and Eve Williams, are introduced almost immediately. The two women are looking at Ravenscliffe, ‘the only property on the common, a large, detached villa, deeper than it was wide’. Anna, a twenty-two-year-old Russian émigré, has set her sights on living in the property, which ‘held the promise of happiness… there was warmth here’. Eve, rather older than Anna and with three young children, is a widower, still secretively mourning her late husband Arthur who was killed in a mining accident.

The second chapter of the novel then focuses upon Clarissa Hoyland and her husband Teddy, otherwise known as Lord and Lady Netherwood. Clarissa is a ‘beautiful, pouting, manipulative’ woman who tends to have tantrums if she is not given her own way immediately. Lord and Lady Netherwood’s kitchen staff are also featured in the narrative. This technique is certainly reminiscent of Downton Abbey and similar period dramas, as the reader is able to see both sides of the same situation through the rich-poor divide.

Many more characters are included throughout the book, both in the main plot and subplots. At first, the sheer number of people who have been introduced into Ravenscliffe seem overwhelming, and it is consequently difficult to make sense of who is who and what relevance they have to the rest of the story. We meet Eve’s partner, Daniel, her three children and her brother Silas, as well as an Amos Sykes, a Jem Arkwright and an Absalom Blandford in just the first few short chapters.

Many period details have been included by the author, ranging from the exact model of the stove in Ravenscliffe’s kitchen to a game called ‘knur’, and from the growing awareness of mining conditions to the responsibilities of head gardeners in the Edwardian era. Changing times in history have been included, along with important real-life figures – Keir Hardie, the King of England and Sylvia Pankhurst, for example – alongside Sanderson’s fictionalised creations. Relationships between the characters simultaneously move forward and dissipate, new alliances are formed and long-lost siblings are found and rejoiced over. The divide between wealth and relative poverty has been touched upon, as has the rather rigid class system which existed at the time.

Sanderson has used a third person perspective throughout, in a style which feels rather informal. The dialogue of many of the characters – in fact, the majority of them – is written in Yorkshire dialect. This works well to an extent, but it does feel rather overdone at times, particularly when entire conversations which fill pages at a time follow the exact same patterns of speech. Sanderson’s scenic descriptions are rich and often vivid, but sadly not much is made of what the characters themselves are like. Descriptions of them seem to have been overlooked somewhat, and they feel a little flat and rather two-dimensional in consequence. We do learn some details about their personalities as the story unfolds, but there is no real creation of a coherent and consistent work. Due to the lack of character descriptions and the similarities in the dialects which many of the characters speak with, it is difficult at times to distinguish between one character and the next.

Ravenscliffe itself is certainly stronger with regard to its storyline than with the characters which it involves. Many different plots converge to make up the overall story, and in this way, Ravenscliffe is rather deftly crafted.

Ravenscliffe is an interesting story on several accounts, and Sanderson’s use of social history is its definite strength. The story is a little confusing at times, merely due to the sheer numbers of characters involved from one chapter to the next. The novel does not break new ground by any means, but for readers of historical fiction, the book is a pleasant one. It does seem rather difficult for the reader to become caught up in the story, however, and no real compassion is built up on behalf of the characters.

– See more at: http://www.nudgemenow.com/article/ravenscliffe-by-jane-sanderson/#sthash.WUcH7HN3.dpuf

Ravenscliffe is the standalone sequel to Jane Sanderson’s debut novel Netherwood. The novel has been publicised as ‘perfect for readers of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore, as well as fans of period dramas like Downton Abbey’.

Ravenscliffe opens in Yorkshire in 1904, in a small town named Netherwood. The story begins with a very well written description of the mining town, with its ‘spiteful, unruly gangs of hawthorn’ and its three major collieries. The main protagonists of the novel, Anna Rabinovich and Eve Williams, are introduced almost immediately. The two women are looking at Ravenscliffe, ‘the only property on the common, a large, detached villa, deeper than it was wide’. Anna, a twenty-two-year-old Russian émigré, has set her sights on living in the property, which ‘held the promise of happiness… there was warmth here’. Eve, rather older than Anna and with three young children, is a widower, still secretively mourning her late husband Arthur who was killed in a mining accident.

The second chapter of the novel then focuses upon Clarissa Hoyland and her husband Teddy, otherwise known as Lord and Lady Netherwood. Clarissa is a ‘beautiful, pouting, manipulative’ woman who tends to have tantrums if she is not given her own way immediately. Lord and Lady Netherwood’s kitchen staff are also featured in the narrative. This technique is certainly reminiscent of Downton Abbey and similar period dramas, as the reader is able to see both sides of the same situation through the rich-poor divide.

Many more characters are included throughout the book, both in the main plot and subplots. At first, the sheer number of people who have been introduced into Ravenscliffe seem overwhelming, and it is consequently difficult to make sense of who is who and what relevance they have to the rest of the story. We meet Eve’s partner, Daniel, her three children and her brother Silas, as well as an Amos Sykes, a Jem Arkwright and an Absalom Blandford in just the first few short chapters.

Many period details have been included by the author, ranging from the exact model of the stove in Ravenscliffe’s kitchen to a game called ‘knur’, and from the growing awareness of mining conditions to the responsibilities of head gardeners in the Edwardian era. Changing times in history have been included, along with important real-life figures – Keir Hardie, the King of England and Sylvia Pankhurst, for example – alongside Sanderson’s fictionalised creations. Relationships between the characters simultaneously move forward and dissipate, new alliances are formed and long-lost siblings are found and rejoiced over. The divide between wealth and relative poverty has been touched upon, as has the rather rigid class system which existed at the time.

Sanderson has used a third person perspective throughout, in a style which feels rather informal. The dialogue of many of the characters – in fact, the majority of them – is written in Yorkshire dialect. This works well to an extent, but it does feel rather overdone at times, particularly when entire conversations which fill pages at a time follow the exact same patterns of speech. Sanderson’s scenic descriptions are rich and often vivid, but sadly not much is made of what the characters themselves are like. Descriptions of them seem to have been overlooked somewhat, and they feel a little flat and rather two-dimensional in consequence. We do learn some details about their personalities as the story unfolds, but there is no real creation of a coherent and consistent work. Due to the lack of character descriptions and the similarities in the dialects which many of the characters speak with, it is difficult at times to distinguish between one character and the next.

Ravenscliffe itself is certainly stronger with regard to its storyline than with the characters which it involves. Many different plots converge to make up the overall story, and in this way, Ravenscliffe is rather deftly crafted.

Ravenscliffe is an interesting story on several accounts, and Sanderson’s use of social history is its definite strength. The story is a little confusing at times, merely due to the sheer numbers of characters involved from one chapter to the next. The novel does not break new ground by any means, but for readers of historical fiction, the book is a pleasant one. It does seem rather difficult for the reader to become caught up in the story, however, and no real compassion is built up on behalf of the characters.

– See more at: http://www.nudgemenow.com/article/ravenscliffe-by-jane-sanderson/#sthash.WUcH7HN3.dpuf

Ravenscliffe is the standalone sequel to Jane Sanderson’s debut novel Netherwood. The novel has been publicised as ‘perfect for readers of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore, as well as fans of period dramas like Downton Abbey’.

Ravenscliffe opens in Yorkshire in 1904, in a small town named Netherwood. The story begins with a very well written description of the mining town, with its ‘spiteful, unruly gangs of hawthorn’ and its three major collieries. The main protagonists of the novel, Anna Rabinovich and Eve Williams, are introduced almost immediately. The two women are looking at Ravenscliffe, ‘the only property on the common, a large, detached villa, deeper than it was wide’. Anna, a twenty-two-year-old Russian émigré, has set her sights on living in the property, which ‘held the promise of happiness… there was warmth here’. Eve, rather older than Anna and with three young children, is a widower, still secretively mourning her late husband Arthur who was killed in a mining accident.

The second chapter of the novel then focuses upon Clarissa Hoyland and her husband Teddy, otherwise known as Lord and Lady Netherwood. Clarissa is a ‘beautiful, pouting, manipulative’ woman who tends to have tantrums if she is not given her own way immediately. Lord and Lady Netherwood’s kitchen staff are also featured in the narrative. This technique is certainly reminiscent of Downton Abbey and similar period dramas, as the reader is able to see both sides of the same situation through the rich-poor divide.

Many more characters are included throughout the book, both in the main plot and subplots. At first, the sheer number of people who have been introduced into Ravenscliffe seem overwhelming, and it is consequently difficult to make sense of who is who and what relevance they have to the rest of the story. We meet Eve’s partner, Daniel, her three children and her brother Silas, as well as an Amos Sykes, a Jem Arkwright and an Absalom Blandford in just the first few short chapters.

Many period details have been included by the author, ranging from the exact model of the stove in Ravenscliffe’s kitchen to a game called ‘knur’, and from the growing awareness of mining conditions to the responsibilities of head gardeners in the Edwardian era. Changing times in history have been included, along with important real-life figures – Keir Hardie, the King of England and Sylvia Pankhurst, for example – alongside Sanderson’s fictionalised creations. Relationships between the characters simultaneously move forward and dissipate, new alliances are formed and long-lost siblings are found and rejoiced over. The divide between wealth and relative poverty has been touched upon, as has the rather rigid class system which existed at the time.

Sanderson has used a third person perspective throughout, in a style which feels rather informal. The dialogue of many of the characters – in fact, the majority of them – is written in Yorkshire dialect. This works well to an extent, but it does feel rather overdone at times, particularly when entire conversations which fill pages at a time follow the exact same patterns of speech. Sanderson’s scenic descriptions are rich and often vivid, but sadly not much is made of what the characters themselves are like. Descriptions of them seem to have been overlooked somewhat, and they feel a little flat and rather two-dimensional in consequence. We do learn some details about their personalities as the story unfolds, but there is no real creation of a coherent and consistent work. Due to the lack of character descriptions and the similarities in the dialects which many of the characters speak with, it is difficult at times to distinguish between one character and the next.

Ravenscliffe itself is certainly stronger with regard to its storyline than with the characters which it involves. Many different plots converge to make up the overall story, and in this way, Ravenscliffe is rather deftly crafted.

Ravenscliffe is an interesting story on several accounts, and Sanderson’s use of social history is its definite strength. The story is a little confusing at times, merely due to the sheer numbers of characters involved from one chapter to the next. The novel does not break new ground by any means, but for readers of historical fiction, the book is a pleasant one. It does seem rather difficult for the reader to become caught up in the story, however, and no real compassion is built up on behalf of the characters.

– See more at: http://www.nudgemenow.com/article/ravenscliffe-by-jane-sanderson/#sthash.WUcH7HN3.dpuf

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