It's not often that I'm so drawn into a novel that I can't put it down. In fact, I don't remember the last time that happened. Now I'm reading The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, and I find myself thinking about it constantly.
This woman can tell a story, and she can write a sentence and a paragraph and handle dialogue. And by god, she can plot. The Girl You Left Behind is half historical and half contemporary, set in France and England. That's pretty difficult to pull off, but she does it effortlessly.
I read Me Before You first (also a great title) and that was very good, thought provoking and sad and not-sad all at once, but The Girl You Left Behind is a step beyond. Moyes has more of a backlist, and I'm going to be reading whatever there is to read straight away.
I'm not going to review either novel here, not now, because I haven't finished The Girl You Left Behind yet and also because I need to think about it for a while. But I wanted to say this. It's good to come across a storyteller who can handle both extremes of emotion and the high and low points of experience so deftly. There is sorrow here, of the deepest and most moving kind, and a bone-deep understanding of what it is to lose someone you love. There is also new love and friendship and animosity and fear. On a couple of occasions things come close to — but don't quite cross — the line into too much.
The historical half of the story is set in France during WWI, which is a little out of the ordinary because that war is far less visited in fiction these days than its follow-up. It is also of special interest to me because it was so central to Homestead and I studied it for a long time. The characters in the first part of The Girl You Left Behind are very well drawn and evocative, but it's the second half of the novel that really has grabbed me.
I haven't read any reviews because I didn't want to be influenced, but my guess is that Moyes will be compared to Jodi Picoult and Jacquelyn Mitchard, because in each of Moyes' novels there's an unusual premise or backstory built around a difficult or controversial ethical issue. Picoult runs hot and cold for me; in my opinion, Mitchard is the far better writer. And I think the same can be said of Moyes. It won't be clear until she's got a larger body of work, which I hope is forthcoming.