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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just Finished Reading: Resistance by Owen Sheers (FP: 2007)

England, 1944. After the disaster on the Normandy beaches the shattered British and Allied forces brace themselves for the inevitable counterstrike. When it comes the German forces, fresh from their victories in the East, quickly gain a beach head and begin to move inland for the long awaited victory over their only remaining opponent in Europe. Meanwhile in rural Wales life goes on as it always has. The war is still far away and the crops need to be harvested. Convinced that the war will pass them by the residents of the border Olchon valley ignore the radio reports of disaster and get on with their lives. Until one morning the women wake to discover that their men have all vanished in the night apparently to join the emerging resistance to German occupation. Much to the women’s surprise and dismay a small German contingent enter the valley with the advertised mission of setting up a radio station before moving on. But trapped by a sudden heavy snowfall the German troops, led by Captain Albrecht Wolfram, decide to sit out the war for a few months in the hope and expectation that it will all be over by the time the snow melts. At first wary of each other the German troops and the local women gradually see that their survival during the harsh winter depends far more on co-operation than resistance. But how far can you go before you collaborate with the enemy and what are the Germans really in the valley for anyway?

I saw the movie of this book some years ago and thought it was reasonable. The book is, as they often are, much better and the main characters – the Captain and his ‘love interest’ Sarah – are particularly well drawn (I really liked the Captain). I had more of a problem with the premise that the D-Day landings would fail so spectacularly that England is invaded and put in real peril. The author does explain, at least in part, that the world in the novel is very different from our world but I still doubt that events portrayed in the book could have come to pass in the way they did. Maybe part of that was I didn’t like seeing England invaded so easily and Allied troops defeated at every turn. Despite those misgivings I did, generally, enjoy this book quite a lot. It was a little slow in places with somewhat less tension that I’d have liked. He handled the sense of isolation (on both sides) well and didn’t go for the easy romantic options that some others might have gone for (for which I was grateful) and much of the characterisation all round rang true.

One thing I did notice immediately. This is the author’s first novel (which is rather impressive considering the strength of the story) but his previously published works have been poetry – and you can tell in his use of prose. It is a very well-crafted novel and you can tell that his choice of practically every word is very deliberate and that, for me at least, distracted from the story. It did seem that the author valued a well turned phrase (and this novel had many of them) more highly that a plot required to move the story along. This wasn’t a bad book by any means but, again for me, there was something missing at the heart of it. An absence most notable which seemed to constantly tug at my consciousness and constantly remind me that I was reading a novel. It’s difficult to explain but I think if he’d turned the absence into an actual presence then this could have been something quite exceptional – but I’m guessing (OK, I’m pretty confident) that the absence I felt was fully intended by the author. Unfortunately for me, that really didn’t work. Interesting and still recommended as something worth reading but it didn’t really float my boat.


smellincoffee said...

Silly Germans, invading ANOTHER place while at war with Russia!

This one sounds like an altogether different take on the usual WW2-alt history. Is the point of divergence just the D-Day invasion or do the world differences go deeper?

CyberKitten said...

Most of the differences are only hinted at in asides from some of the characters memories and radio reports. Germany had defeated the Russians and had pushed them beyond the Urals taking both Stalingrad and Moscow. The Americans were struggling against the Japanese and not doing terribly well, plus I remember that the US came in 'late' on the Allied side (maybe not providing anything early on to aid Britain in its fight after the Fall of France. There was also mention of strong air defences over Germany which would have made the British bombing campaign much more difficult, if not impossible, so the Germans would have had more materiel to use against its enemies. I think it's a world where basically the Germans didn't make the multiple mistakes they made in our world.

Ellie said...

I enjoyed this novel. You can really tell he is a poet from the way he uses words and I loved that. I thought it was a beautiful read as well as an interesting take on the subject. I can see why you'd think it is missing something, as I know I was left a bit flat by the end, but I still completely adored it.

CyberKitten said...

It was very well, and sometimes beautifully, written but it failed to really grip me. I'm not exactly sure why I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

Maybe it was the pacing (rather slow) or the fact that actually very little happened (although much was promised). There was certainly lots of underlying dread which was well managed but I think he could have handled the disappearance of the men better...... [muses]