3 December 2020

Resistance by Anita Shreve

As I've been working through Anita Shreve's bibliography I've been putting off her historical fiction like Resistance because it's honestly just not my thing. There have been few exceptions where I've really enjoyed this type of story and I really wasn't looking forward to reading this the way I usually am when I start a Shreve novel but I ended up enjoying it.

The story is about a Belgian resistance group called the Marquis during WWII who help people hide from the Germans. An American plane crashes down in a small Belgian town and the pilot is brought to a couple from the Marquis' home to recover. Clare, the woman, ends up nursing the pilot back to health while her husband Henri goes into hiding himself as the Germans become aware of his participation in the resistance. 

The fighting, he knew, could sometimes be a thing of such beauty it took your breath away... The way a B-17 seemed slowly to fall to earth with great dignity, as though it had been inadvertently let go by God... A plane, severed at the waist, that made your heart stop. Count the chutes. And breaking radio silence, shouting wildly at the doomed crew to bail out, bail out. It was the worst thing you had ever witnessed, and when it was over there was no place to put it. No part of you that could absorb it, and so you learned to transform the event even as it was happening, a sleight of hand, a trick of magic, to turn a kill into a triumph."

I mentioned that there are few exceptions where I've enjoyed this type of story and one is The English Patient, one of my favourite ever fiction books. Sure enough, in true English Patient fashion, Clare and the American Pilot fall in love. 

Something I love about Anita Shreve is that she never feels the need for her books to have tidy endings. The following isn't so much a spoiler as a plot point, there is more to the ending than what I'm about to say... Eventually the Marquis makes a plan for the American pilot to escape but he doesn't want to leave Belgium without Clare and in a series of unfortunate events they are both caught by Germans. 

It was the knowing they had only four days that was the worst, he thought. It would have been better to have been taken quickly, even if there were no time for goodbyes. As in death. The worst was to know you were going down, he believed, not the act of going down itself. He thought of the gunner who fell out of the sky, hoped the man blacked out as soon as he hit freefall."

There's a really sad scene where they see each other in a prison hospital but can't acknowledge each other at all without affirming that Clare knew him and helped him with his attempted escape. I didn't end the book feeling satisfied with the ending the way I often am with a fiction novel, but something about the dissatisfaction makes me think about it for a lot longer.

Bill Paxton plays the pilot in the 2003 film adaptation of Resistance

There are a lot of great reflections on the war throughout this book. Obviously, they are fiction, but I often find the magnitude of WWII hard to even think about. It's sort of like a billion dollars to me in that I just can't process what that would even look like. I really liked this line from when a boy found the American pilot in the woods after the plane crash:

It was as though he had never been, until this moment, in the war itself. it was one thing to imagine finding an American flyer in the wood, quite another to be staring at a soldier's feet."

I found that pretty relatable especially considering the pandemic we're in- it's easy to forget its happening until something is directly happening to you. 

This isn't my favourite of Shreve's books but it's not my least favourite either. If you like The English Patient you'll enjoy this (very similar) story too. Shreve is no Ondaatje but she's a great writer in her own domain and I'm really sad I think I only have 1-2 books of hers left unread.  This is one of the few books of hers with a film adaptation but I've yet to watch it.

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