The newest novel by Moyes (Me Before You, 2012, etc.) shares its title with a fictional painting that serves as catalyst in linking two love stories, one set in occupied France during World War I, the other in 21st-century London.
In a French village in 1916, Sophie is helping the family while her husband, Édouard, an artist who studied with Matisse, is off fighting. Sophie’s pluck in standing up to the new German kommandant in the village draws his interest. An art lover, he also notices Édouard's portrait of Sophie, which captures her essence (and the kommandant's adoration). Arranging to dine regularly at Sophie’s inn with his men, he begins a cat-and-mouse courtship. She resists. But learning that Édouard is being held in a particularly harsh “reprisal” camp, she must decide what she will sacrifice for Édouard’s freedom. The rich portrayals of Sophie, her family and neighbors hauntingly capture wartime’s gray morality. Cut to 2006 and a different moral puzzle. Thirty-two-year-old widow Liv has been struggling financially and emotionally since her husband David’s sudden death. She meets Paul in a bar after her purse is stolen. The divorced father is the first man she’s been drawn to since she was widowed. They spend a glorious night together, but after noticing Édouard's portrait of Sophie on Liv’s wall, he rushes away with no explanation. In fact, Paul is as smitten as Liv, but his career is finding and returning stolen art to the rightful owners. Usually the artwork was confiscated by Germans during World War II, not WWI, but Édouard's descendants recently hired him to find this very painting. Liv is not about to part with it; David bought it on their honeymoon because the portrait reminded him of Liv. In love, Liv and Paul soon find themselves on opposite sides of a legal battle.
While Liv’s more pedestrian story is less romantic than Sophie’s and far less nuanced, Moyes is a born storyteller who makes it impossible not to care about her heroines.