01/12/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Faber and Faber. 281 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-571-23906-1.
check out website: www.faber.co.uk
Over the years there have been numerous novels about 'what if the Germans had invaded Britain'. One of the more recent ones was 'Weaver' by Stephen Baxter. They make a sub-genre of the alternative history sub-genre. Most of them follow the same lines, of the Germans landing and making a march on London and the action takes place either on the front line or just behind it. Some, such as in Philip K. Dick's 'The Man In A High Castle' take a perspective from long past the conquest and tracing differences in the unfolded history.
Owen Sheers is better known in the literary world as a poet. His alternative history has a very realistic edge and takes place mostly well away from the action in a remote Welsh border valley. What is really only just coming to light is that there was a plan in place in case the invasion happened. All over the country, underground bunkers had been built, equipped with explosives and supplies. Men in reserved occupations had been briefed. When the word came, they were to leave their homes and disappear. Their role was to sabotage the German advance from behind the lines in a series of hit and run attacks on targets such as railway lines. Their expected survival time was two weeks.
Sheers tells this story mainly from the point of view of the bewildered women left behind. The war has scarcely touched the farming communities in the valley when one morning in 1944, the women wake up to find that the men have all vanished. They have no clues where they have gone or why. They just have to try and carry on running the farms the best they can. They hear rumours, but nothing concrete. Then a small group of Germans takes up residence in a deserted farmhouse lower down the valley. They try to ignore them but there are some jobs that the women do not have the strength to do alone. An uneasy truce develops. After accepting that their menfolk are not coming back, the question remains as to what this isolated German patrol is doing there.
This is an excellent novel from a mainstream writer. It works because Sheers is not trying to use SF tropes but is developing a character driven narrative around the 'What if?' that is the starting point for all writing.
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