After so enjoying James Long's Ferney last week, I knew I wouldn't be able to leave it very long before starting on the sequel. There will be spoilers to Ferney ahead, so look away now if you'd like to read it (and you should - it's lovely!)
Our story begins with Jo, a sixteen-year-old girl who has had a difficult life with an uncaring mother. Since she was a little girl, Jo has heard a voice inside her, a woman called Gally who helps her make sense of the world and calm her fears. Though Jo's mother sees this as evidence of mental illness and tries to keep her quiet with pills, luckily Jo has two good friends at school who she can rely on for support. One of these friends is the daughter of an archaeologist, and when she suggests the three of therm go on a dig in Somerset, it's the perfect opportunity for Jo to get away from her domineering mother and find her real self.
On the first day of the dig a young boy called Luke also gets a strange feeling of destiny. It leads him to the place where Jo and her friends are digging and, though the two of them don't properly meet, they both feel a thrilling sense that the other is near. By chance, there is another person at the dig who is of significance to both of them; Mike, a teacher who was once married to a woman named Gally who broke his heart.
Readers of Ferney are never in any doubt as to who Luke and Jo are, and much of the book is a game of cat and mouse with the reader as the two characters are almost brought together then torn apart several times before actually meeting. Luke is much quicker than Jo to realise his real identity, and there is plenty of scope for more fascinating historical episodes when the two finally do get together and he starts filling in some of the blanks for her. As in Ferney, these tangents are one of the best things about the book, and the author has found a great way of making history come alive with this unusual plot device.
The big stumbling block for Ferney and Gally's rose tinted future is, of course, Mike, who is even more sympathetic in this sequel than in the original book. He suffered hugely over Gally's actions, but he never stopped loving her and it's so sad to read about his futile hope that he might be able to be with her again after so many years. I think the author almost went too far here, but I suppose it did illustrate just what a force of nature Ferney and Gally were to have them unwillingly cause Mike so much pain.
There are far more characters in The Lives She Left Behind than there were in Ferney, which helped replace the sense of mystery that was inevitably missing in a sequel. The bonds of friendship between Jo and her friends, the colourful characters on the dig and the slowly developing sympathy of Mike's lawyer all helped broaden the scope of this novel and take some of the intensity out of the Ferney and Gally love train. Reading this was a slightly different experience to that of reading Ferney, but still very enjoyable and I had no trouble polishing off the book in one day. Four stars.