MARCH: Resistance - Reviewing the reviews

Last updated at 17:50 04 April 2008

What did our critics think of Owen Sheers' Resistance? Did other reviewers agree? And most importantly, what do you think?

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RESISTANCE - Reviewed by Ross Gilfillan

Set in a Britain occupied by Germany after the failure of the D-Day landings, this novel unfolds on the Welsh borders, where a small valley community wakes to find that its menfolk have slipped away into the night. The discovery of a secret government leaflet suggests that the men have left to join the British resistance.

Even with mutual support, their wives struggle to maintain the farms and the arrival of a six-man German patrol only adds to their worries. Captain Albrecht Wolfram has been charged by Himmler with finding the medieval Mappa Mundi, once housed in Hereford Cathedral and now hidden by the British government. Wolfram, though, would rather find respite from the fighting. During a harsh winter, he and his patrol help their farming neighbours. As the weather thaws, so do the German soldiers and gradually, uniforms and suspicions disappear.

Beyond the valley, though, the war goes on and threatens to destroy this newfound harmony at any moment.


THE INDEPENDENT - by Paul Binding

Sarah stands apart from the other women in her valley, as Albrecht stands apart from his men, younger and both hardened and destabilised by hellish war experiences. In this remote corner of the Marches, woman and man perform a pas de deux – meeting, withdrawing, choreographed by temperament and inexorable history.

There are many beauties in the novel's delineations of the land's harsh demands and intimate rewards, and of those human spirits who have derived sustenance from it. Outstanding among these last are Sarah's retrospective cameos of the painter-poet David Jones, over at Capel-y-ffin, whom she knew as a girl of nine. War-wounded Jones would surely have been gratified by the tribute.

THE GUARDIAN - by Jan Morris

Resistance is a Welshman's book, full of Welsh passion, poetry, doubt and enigma, and I don't doubt that the positioning of that passage was deliberate - at the very core of the work, a transcendental sense of union with the earth, exemplified here by a remote mountainous enclave near the English border.

The book is not in the least parochial, because its themes are universal: love of land and country, love and hate of nations, love and suspicion among people, fear and war and common decency. I like to think, though, that its inner qualities are peculiarly Welsh, and by setting his story in so spare and disregarded a patch of a generally spare and disregarded little country, Sheers has given it an extra charge of allegory.

THE TELEGRAPH - by Ingrid Wassenaar

Resistance is the governing idea of the novel. But its motor force and inner poetics have another name: reversal. The women have to step into the men's shoes, the enemy becomes the friend, lonely and desolate places become opportunities for regeneration.

In a polyphonous novel filled to bursting with evocative images, the most graphic is itself a piece of writing. One of the women writes letters to her missing husband in the back of their farm accounts. She gradually fills in the book from both ends until there is no more space, and she has to find another way forward. The novel starts with an ending - the disappearance of the husbands. Its quest throughout is for an ending that might be a fresh start.

THE OBSERVER - by Stephanie Merritt

The true heart of the novel is its strong sense of place, this border country edged with hills that allow both parties almost to forget the war that pits them against one another. The barren beauty of the landscape works on Albrecht to restore a sense of hope after five years of bloody warfare, and it is thanks to his restored sense of decency that the women of the valley are spared the usual ravages of an invading army, yet he remains uncomfortably aware that war, and history, have their own momentum: 'He knew he was right, in what he remembered of the real world, to be walking away from the farm woman as they were now. And yet he felt wrong, as if he'd denied the war its natural course, disturbed the calibration of events.' The young 'farm woman' is Sarah Lewis, whose letters to her absent husband, Tom, are threaded through the narrative as the distance increases between what she writes and what she feels

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