Monday, 5 December 2011

Resistance by Owen Sheers

Futile or not?
review by Maryom

One morning in September 1944, a few days after the Germans invade Britain, Sarah Lewis and the other women of the Olchon valley in a remote corner of Wales wake to discover that their men have left sometime during the night. The only clue to their whereabouts is a discarded pamphlet, found in a cowshed, outlining tactics for guerilla warfare. The woman resolve to keep their men's disappearance a secret and to work the farms themselves but the situation changes when a German patrol arrives in the valley on a secret mission. Led by war-weary Captain Albrecht Wolfram, looking for a place to sit out the remainder of the war away from the front line, they take up residence in a deserted house and settle themselves in. Cut off from the war first by location, then by the snowdrifts of a harsh winter, the women are won over by the soldiers' helpfulness and stop seeing them as the enemy. An uneasy alliance is forged, of growing friendship and possible romance, but can it be maintained when the outside 'real' world intrudes?

Set in an alternate World War 2 where, following the collapse of the Russian army and the failure of the Allied D-Day landings, the German army has turned its sights on Britain, Resistance examines the changing relationship between two small groups of people - the female Welsh inhabitants and the male German intruders. Sheers takes us into their hearts and minds, presenting the reader not with two stereotypical groups but individuals with differing attitudes and reactions - from those quick to build new friendships to those opposed to the enemy at all cost. The strength of Sheers' writing comes from his ability to portray moods - of the harsh yet beautiful landscape or of people caught between their emotions and duty - the reader can feel the tension building, the moments when a misplaced word could tip a situation either way.

By placing the story in an unreal past, Sheers underlines its timeless relevance. Is there a right or wrong response in such a situation? Are the soldiers just ordinary men caught up in something beyond their control or a deadly enemy to be opposed to the bitter end?

I tracked Resistance down through the library as I wanted to read it before watching the film. I half expect that many of the subtleties will have been lost - the plot concentrating on the main story-line between Sarah and Albrecht, and the varying reactions of the women being lost. I hope not.

I've read other reviews which have said the ending is ambiguous. I didn't find it so myself.
My only slight criticism would be that I wasn't convinced that anyone would maintain their voluntary isolation for so long - surely a lack of tea, coffee, soap and other essentials would have won out?

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Faber&Faber
Genre - adult fiction, war

If you've read and enjoyed Resistance, try White Ravens, Owen Sheers' re-imagining of the Welsh folk tale of Branwen daughter of Llyr

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