Written by Owen Sheers
Nan A. Talese Books
Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long
There are occasions in the opera house or concert hall when a performance, for no reason whatsoever, suddenly takes wing and what would normally be a good evening turns into an exceptional one. This happened to me several times in my theatre attending life and are evenings to remember which stay in the memory. The same happens with reading. Most of the time you will read a selection of books that appeal and which you will enjoy and then, out of the blue, along will come a story that grabs you hard and won't let you go until the final page is read and the book shut up.
Over the Easter weekend I had promised myself four days of rest and idleness, with the exception of reading of course, and after hearing good things about Resistance had this to hand for my holiday treat. As soon as I started it, I put it down, which sounds totally contradictory, but I just knew that if I did not, the rest of the day would go to pot and as I had certain things to do, put away temptation.
So the next day, which was clear, I sat down and was up late at night finishing this simply stunning book. Imagine the D-Day landings had failed, the Germans had invaded England and were in occupation. Imagine a small Welsh valley, remote and desolate and cut off from the outside world. Imagine one morning waking up and finding your husband has vanished, the indent of his body is still in the bed, but his work boots have gone, his coat and no sign of him anywhere. Imagine finding that all the men in this valley have also gone and left their women behind to manage without them. They have all been recruited prior to the invasion to join the local resistance where there are no rewards and death is certain.
Imagine after finding you are all alone, a German patrol arrives, a small, especially selected band of men, no more than five in number who have been sent to the valley for a special reason (which I will not give away) and you have to learn to live with their presence.
Heading up the patrol is Albrecht, he and his men are weary and battle hardened and, as the winter closes in and the valley is cut off by heavy snow, he decides that they will remain there, not disobeying orders for none have been received, but not making any effort to make contact either. As the weeks pass by they slowly regain normalcy, a respite from the horrors they have seen and begin to help the women on their farms. Gradually a wary truce and, even friendship, emerges as both the invader and invaded realise they can help each other. They begin to imagine what life would be like when the war is over, Albrecht begins to think they can stay in the valley, be happy. As the reader is privy to Albrecht's thoughts we warm to him and begin to feel empathy with his sadness and fragile optimism, but we know, deep down that he is living in a fool's paradise and that sooner or later he will have to face reality with the coming of the spring and the thaw.
We are also privy to the thoughts of the women who have been left to cope on their own with their anger and frustration as well as their fear that they will never see their husbands again. Both sides of the story are there for us to see and understand and it makes for compelling reading and totally captured my attention.
By the time I reached the last few chapters of Resistance I so wanted a happy ending and all to be well, but I knew that it was never going to happen. However, I was not prepared for the denouement and the sadness of the last few pages and I ended up with a lump in my throat and a feeling of sorrow that I had come to the end of this wonderful story.
I gather that Owen Sheers is a poet and this is his first work of fiction. Seamless writing, flows beautifully, easy to read and with great depth and understanding, I simply loved this book. I cannot wait for his next.