Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dark times in Wales

Thanks to Philip Roth's the Plot Against America, the alternative history novel gained a bit more cachet and interest than it once had. This wasn't the first literary alternative history novel, you could certainly point to the Man in the High Castle or Pavane as literary works, but it is much more rare to see a non-genre writer working in alternate history. In his debut novel, Resistance, Owen Sheers approaches this genre subject from the literary viewpoint.

In the book, the female residents of an isolated Welsh valley wake to find their husbands gone. They soon realize they have taken to the hills to resist a German invasion. In his timeline, the war has gone the Germans way and now the French experience of occupation, including the murky choices of resistance and collaboration, is foisted upon the British.

As in the underappreciated A Midnight Clear, Sheers looks at people, German and British, who try to opt out of the war. As you might expect, this is more difficult that it seems and people on both sides make it more difficult for them to make their choice. Eventually the nastiness rolls into the valley and tragedy ensues.

I quite liked the lyrical approach to the writing and I read it quickly. Late in the book, one character experiences put the valley goings on in much different light that strongly highlights the challenges of resistance. This element is a bit underplayed and could have been made stronger. Hard core alternate history fans looking for all the points of divergence or plenty of military action will need to look elsewhere as that is not Sheers' focus.

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