Review: Resistance by Owen Sheers (Faber)


Owen Sheers’ debut novel follows on from his two award-winning poetry collections and The Dust Diaries the Welsh Book of the Year for 2005. So the pressure to live up his previous works is high.

Resistance re-imagines a Second World War where the Nazis successfully cross The Channel and bring the fighting to British soil. As a consequence the women of the isolated Olchon valley wake up to find their men missing presuming they have left them to go to join the war.

The novel focuses first on the woman’s reactions to their husbands’ disappearance and then their reaction to the arrival of a five-man Nazi patrol on mystery mission. A severe winter forces a co-operation which turns to a fragile mutual dependency one that could be shattered at any moment.

This all sounds very dramatic, but the tension here is more subtle and manipulated like a stop-frame animation; each move delicate and deliberate and considerate of the overall picture.

Sheers feels assured in his setting, a place I assume near where he grew up and is very familiar, and that familiarity with the landscape, the history and the isolation, echoes with the lives of the characters.

Most of the action is explored through the farmer’s wife Sarah and the Nazi officer Albrecht Wolfram as they both come to terms with their new situation and magical bubble that the harsh winter has created.

There are problems with some of the reactions and interactions between the women and the patrol. The women seem to accept their situation and the presence of the men all too easily, even if you accept that they are just keeping the farms running until their husbands return. The men mellow to their new situation and surrounds a little too easily.

But if you accept that that they do and how Sheers explains why each of the characters reacts the way they do and it’s not much of leap then it’s quite easy to get trapped in the valley along with the characters.

In some ways Resistance feels like an extended short story or maybe a novella. It fall shorts of being a fully fledged novel because there was much more that could have been explored as the story unfolded but this most likely would have stretched the story out of Sheers tight control.

There are also places where the tensions and the emotions could have been twisted more without making it overly dramatic and some of the descriptions could have been tightened without spoiling the poetic descriptions or bursting the magical atmosphere.

Atmosphere plays an important part in this novel and it does draw you in. The characters are believable, for the most part, and the plot well planned and imagined. But the ending might be a bit too enigmatic when the harshness of the outside can’t be resisted any more.

I’d definitely say this is an accomplished debut let down slightly by the lack of risks that could have been taken when dealing with the world outside the valley.

Overall, it does seem that Sheers can turn his hand to anything. Resistance is a satisfying and emotional read and I look forward to seeing what Sheers comes up with next.

Originally published on 09/07/2007
A film version is released 
on 25 November 2011

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