Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Book Review: Resistance

I've done a few new releases in my book reviews recently, but I wanted to focus on a vintage related book that you all might have missed, and one that is particularly relevant given that we have just marked the anniversary of D-Day.  'Resistance' by Owen Sheers was published back in 2007, but it has maintained a resurgence in interest since a film version, starring Angela Riseborough was made in 2011, and is often found on Welsh library reading group lists (which is how I came across it).


I was very excited by the premise of the storyline: an alternate WWII story where Britain is under Nazi occupation.  Unlike some of the more far-fetched tales that have followed this idea before (I seem to recall one involving zombies among others), this story is set far behind the battle lines in a remote Welsh valley, deserted by its menfolk.

It's not a thrilling tale of daring acts of resistance by the occupied population, instead, the rather quiet story follows the farm women left behind in this single valley, including young Sarah, who writes to her missing husband daily in the back of the accounts book.  The patrol of German soldiers occupying the valley is headed by Wolfheim, who is on a secret mission that conveniently means avoiding further embroilment in a war he's lost the heart to fight in.  Through a harsh winter, the women and soldiers become unwilling allies in a fight to survive.

The prose itself is pretty and gritty in equal parts, and as first and foremost a poet, Sheers has a knack of describing the landscape (one I grew up in, so I am pleased to find that he's done it justice!).  Unfortunately this manner of description doesn't translate that well to people - for me the characters didn't feel real enough, each was portrayed as a still life rather than a living and breathing person.  All of the Welsh farming families I've met have been tough as old boots, but with some surprising histories and personalities, and I don't feel that the characters Sheers drew had any complexities.  Alas, this meant I wasn't really rooting for any of them.  My other main block to believing the story was the unbelievable nature of the valley's isolation - communities back then might have been geographically dispersed, but all of the relatives I know from the area would have thought nothing about walking miles over mountains just to have a brew and a gossip with Aunt whoever in the next hamlet over.

I don't have an issue with quiet stories, but if I don't care about the characters, and don't believe the situation in which they find themselves, then they just don't engage me.  The last point at which my opinion could have been salvaged was the ending, which could have been a nice crescendo and made the whole book worthwhile.  I'm sorry to say I didn't like the ending at all, not necessarily for the events, but for their brief treatment.  It was as if Sheers himself was writing in the back of Sarah's accounts book and found himself with only a few blank pages left in which to finish the story.

Overall, I think perhaps my expectations were too high.  If you are a fan of poetry you might like this book more than someone after a gripping story, and if you're from Wales then of course you'll get something from the setting.  I'd like to see the film, though I wonder how well such a static story will translate to a full length film.

Here's the trailer for the film, which has a cameo by the marvellous Michael Sheen.

The book 'Resistance' was published by Faber & Faber here in the UK and is available from Amazon here.  The film is also available via Amazon here.


  1. I always sincerely enjoy how honest and fair handed you in your book review, dear Porcelina, as well as that you often, as here, suggest reasons why some folks may like a title more than you did. I think that's the mark of a good, natural born reviewer and on that is often sorely lacking from online reviews where someone wasn't 100% in love with an item.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. I've joined a new book club and it's just made me much more aware of how different people appreciate things differently, so I'm glad that comes across! x

  2. I really enjoy alternate history when it's done well - it's really interesting to think about those events, great or small, that changed the world, and what might have happened if things had gone a little differently. If you like the more realistic end of that genre, you should read The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon. It's got that kind of 40s noir to it, but it's based on the premise of Israel being destroyed in 1948, and the Jewish people resettling in Alaska. Very well written.

    1. What an intriguing premise, I'm putting that one on my 'to-read' list also! Thanks for the tip x

  3. It sounds like an interesting book. Robert Harris' 'Fatherland' and CJ Sansom's 'Dominion' are my two favourite alternate history WWII books, but they're both thrillers - it would be fascinating to see things from a more ordinary, emotional perspective.

    1. Thanks Mim for more to add to my reading list! I think that I didn't find it 'emotional' enough, that was maybe what I was looking for x


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