Friday, April 10, 2009

Resistance - Owen Sheers


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?

12 comments:

C. B. James said...

Hey, glad to see more people reading Resistence and thanks for the link. And I will say yes, it would make a great movie, in the right hands. As I recall, there are not many action sequences in the book. The wrong hands would add in action sequences with explosions and motorcycles. That would ruin it.

Beth F said...

I'll have to consider this one now. When I first heard about it, I wasn't at all interested. Your review has made me see that there is more to this novel than just another (albeit alternate) war story of enemies finding friendship.

Kaye said...

Hi Sandy, You have been awarded the One lovely blog award. Stop by and pick up the logo for the award when you get a chance. I hope you and your family have a blessed, peaceful Easter.

farmlanebooks said...

I'm still not sure about this one. War stories have to be amazing to make me want to read through all that misery.

Despite this I love your blog! I've given you a Splash Award here:

http://www.farmlanebooks.co.uk/?p=1188

Have a great Easter!

Carrie K. said...

I'm adding this one to my wish list - it sounds fascinating!

Frances said...

I have a copy of this that I received as an unrequested review copy and had not really rushed it up my tbr list. As Farm Lane Books said, I always hesitate before picking up books about war. But I think I will give it a try - and link you and CB of course for the suggestion. Happy Easter!

Melody said...

Thanks for the great review, Sandy!

I'm always intrigued with the WWII theme so this book definitely interest me!

Savidge Reads said...

I hadnt heard of this book until you blogged about it and I have to say it sounds really interesting, I like the idea of an alterative to any historical event. I would never have known of this if you hadnt said so thanks!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I'd never heard of this one before, but am adding it to my reminder list! If I wasn't already swimming in WWII books for the challenge I'd get a copy right away. But, I decided I'd try to read some of the ones I've already got.

Sandy Nawrot said...

James - As I forwarded to you via e-mail, Owen did contact me and told me that indeed a screenplay is in the works. It has the potential to be a powerful yet subtle film, one that could go far. Let's cross our fingers!

Beth - there ARE so many WWII books out there...I've read so many of them. This one ranks in the top 5. It is worth reading!

Jackie - You are right, so many WWII books are total misery. I didn't feel that way with this one, strangely. You finish the book with hope alive in your heart, which makes it so unique.

Carrie - it is List-worthy!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Frances - Lucky you! I had to go to some trouble to get mine...for some reason, my library didn't carry it. It was worth it though, and worth your TBR list!

Melody - thank you!

Simon - this book is written so well, if you didn't know better, you'd think this was actual history!

Melissa - I know! I've got a sea of WWII books. I normally have to spread them out so I don't get depressed, but this one did not have that effect.

Anna & Serena said...

You're review has been posted on the war blog!