Title: The Farm
Author: Tom Rob Smith
No. of Pages: 368
Origins: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: 3 June 2014
Bottom Line: Emotionally complex with wonderful imagery
“If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.
Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.
Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.
Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.
Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.”
Thoughts: There has been a glut of books in recent months in which the narrator may or may not be psychologically disturbed. The Farm takes this trend one step further. As The Farm is a story within a story, readers get the chance to see and hear a potentially unreliable narrator through another set of eyes. This one-step removal from the possible unreliable narrator creates an intriguing dynamic within the story. Instead of wrestling with one person’s point of view, readers must now judge both narrators for credibility and bias. As such, it requires a level of engagement on the part of the reader that most psychological novels do not entail and provides a rewarding experience for those patient readers who work through the confusion, blatant contradictions, and other misdirection.
Tilde’s story that she tells Daniel is one of secrets and betrayals. Because neither Daniel nor the reader have been to their farm in Sweden and met any of the personages she references, one can only take her word that a neighbor was acting suspiciously or someone’s behavior was a cry for help. That Tilde is suffering from a psychological trauma is evident from her very nature. Just how far that trauma goes in affecting her reasoning is left for Daniel and readers to determine. Daniel certain throws out his own doubts, as readers are privy to his thought process as he listens to his mother’s rantings. However, his desire to please his mother and obtain a measure of closeness directly contradicts his disbelief that his father is capable of the deception of which Tilde accuses him. It is an emotional see-saw with readers along for the ride.
Mr. Smith fills The Farm with a vivid cast of characters. Even through Tilde’s second-hand narration, her neighbors become larger than life as their distinct personalities prevent them from ever being one-dimensional. Interestingly enough, Daniel is one of the weaker characters to exist within the story. However, Mr. Smith utilizes Daniel’s passivity to not only tell a story but to provide context to Tilde’s, When Daniel meets some of Tilde’s foes firsthand, one gets a true sense of the force of personalities she faced and how easily it was for her to become caught up in situations she never had a chance to completely understand.
Mr. Smith also takes great care to establish a crystal-clear background against which the action unfolds. The remote setting of the farm is essential to understanding Tilde’s frame of mind throughout her narrative. The isolation, the harshness of the elements, and even their poverty all become minor characters that directly impact Tilde and, later, Daniel. To accomplish this, Mr. Smith carefully crafts all descriptive narrative for maximum effectiveness to the point where a reader who has never seen a picture of a remote Swedish farm will be able to picture Tilde’s new home and surrounding countryside. His inclusion of traditional customs and cultural quirks rounds out the picture so that one feels as if one is just a step away from the action.
The main plot of The Farm is ultimately less compelling than the roiling emotions that fill every page. Tilde’s story to Daniel is interesting but not as interesting as her obvious agitation and the hidden reasons for her distress. Similarly, Daniel’s own story is not quite as captivating as his fears for or on behalf of his parents and his partner. There is action and a true mystery, the resolution of which will all but break a reader’s heart. However, they become secondary to this palpably emotional story with its gorgeous imagery and intricate details.