By Owen Sheers
|Value for money||7/10|
|Did it do what it said on the box?||8/10|
A Fascinating but Disturbing Alternative History
This is a fascinating book, although its title and blurb are rather misleading. I was expecting something along the lines of a Welsh Defiance (the story of the Belorussian Otriads which successfully battled the Nazis behind the Eastern Front), or Secret Army, but in reality the “Resistance” of this book’s title is most notable by its almost total absence. This is in many ways a much scarier story, about how a German invasion of Britain might have succeeded, but I understand totally why the author didn’t choose instead to call it Collaboration.
At one level, this is a masterful and almost believable re-telling of the progress of the Second World War with a completely different outcome, reminding us how many of the key points individually turned on the narrowest of margins provided either by blind fortune or inexplicably poor German decision-making, both of which could easily have been reversed. How, for example, D-Day could have been scuppered by poor weather, or a single effective German spy operating on the right part of Britain’s South Coast. With only a couple of such reversals the Britain of the story leaves itself open to a successful German invasion in 1944.
The bulk of the story is then a study of how war-weary British communities and German soldiers progress, as much through pragmatic accommodation and grudging acceptance as overt surrender or collaboration, to some form of settlement. As a study of human behaviours in hard times it’s excellent, but it’s empathically not a stirring tale of derring-do. The book also ends with the disposition of most of the central characters left open – I would have preferred a more definite outcome, but that would perhaps have closed things down where the book deliberately tries to portray sources of ambiguity.
The story focuses on a small farming community in the Brecon Beacons, between Abergavenny and Hereford, an area with which I have strong family connections, including a great Aunt and Uncle who farmed in a small valley in the Beacons, very like the central community. As such I very much enjoyed the portrayal of so many places I know. I have even drunk in the only pub which gets mentioned by name!
The author, Sheers, is primarily a poet, and his writing paints a very expressive verbal picture of the land, the events and the people of the story. My usual taste in fiction is more focused on action, but accept the style of the book and you will be fully absorbed by this story, even though it is not a comfortable one.