Friday, April 10, 2009
Based on a rave recommendation from C.B. James, I placed "Resistance" on two of my reading challenges for 2009...my TBR Challenge and my WWII Challenge. I special-ordered it from Borders, and chose it to be my vacation read this week. This debut novel by Welsh-born Sheers has been both reveled and criticized in the reviews, but personally I thought it was brilliant.
The setting is this: In an alternative WWII in 1944, Germany has invaded Britain and has occupied a vast majority of the country. Small groups of resistance fighters have silently banded together all over the country to do their part. In a small, remote valley in Wales, a handful of farm wives wake to find their husbands gone. No explanations, no notes, no hints to their whereabouts, just an indentation on the bed beside them, almost like God himself started Judgement Day a little early. The women have their suspicions, of course, but are in various stages of acceptance and denial. Even more urgent is the knowledge that they are faced with the labor-intensive task of running their farms by themselves. In the spirit of sisterhood, they lower their heads, lock arms, and figure it out together, and pray their husbands will return soon.
Soon after, however, a small group of German soldiers show up at their door, their intentions unknown. They are polite and do not interfere, but inform the women that they will occupy a nearby empty farmhouse. When a brutal winter storm cripples the valley, it becomes apparent that the women and the soldiers will need each other's assistance to survive. Slowly and gradually, the wives begin to accept the presence of the soldiers, and even become hesitant friends. One soldier begins to fall in love with one of the daughters. One damaged soldier allows himself to be nurtured by a woman who has lost her son in the war. Of primary interest to us is the captain, Albrecht, and a 26-year-old wife Sarah. Sarah is perhaps the most resistant of all the wives to the soldiers, but the two forge a delicate attachment. In one scene that particularly touched me, Albrecht brings a gramophone to Sarah's house for her birthday. The scene is magical.
"It was as if the notes of her heart over these past three months had been dictated directly to the hand that drew this bow over these strings to describe, so perfectly, the complex yet simple geometry of her damaged soul."
Despite the original agenda of the soldiers (which we find out late in the story), they all decide that they are not all that anxious to rejoin the fighting and die prematurely. They feel more complete and satisfied now than they have in a long time, and choose to remain in their little bubble of simplicity and serenity for as long as possible. The magic that has been created between the wives and soldiers is soon shattered when a resistance fighter is alerted to the perceived "collaboration", and takes action.
Sheers artfully introduces various themes of resistance into the story. There are the British resistance fighters waging their solitary war against the Germany army, which we expect. But we also sense the wives' resistance in believing they truly have been left alone forever by their husbands. Resistance of the wives to accept the presence and friendship of the soldiers. Resistance of the soldiers to be a willing participant of the brutality of the war anymore. Resistance to let go of the things that are safe and comfortable. Sheers' prose is deliberate at times, other times delicate and poetic. And in this novel, unlike many, I saw the entire story played out very clearly before my mind's eye...am I the only one out here that thinks this would make a great movie?