Friday, 18 April 2014

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Publication date:  13th February 2014
Published by: Simon & Schuster 

Publisher's synopsis
Until the moment he received a frantic call from his father, Daniel believed his parents were headed into a peaceful, well-deserved retirement. They had sold their home and business in London, and said "farewell to England" with a cheerful party where all their friends had gathered to wish them well on their great adventure: setting off to begin life anew on a remote, bucolic farm in rural Sweden.

But with that phone call, everything changes. Your mother's not well, his father tells him. She's been imagining things--terrible, terrible things. She's had a psychotic breakdown, and has been committed to a mental hospital.

Daniel prepares to rush to Sweden, on the first available flight the next day. Before he can board the plane, his father contacts him again with even more frightening news: his mother has been released from the hospital, and he doesn't know where she is.

Then, he hears from his mother:

I'm sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad. I don't need a doctor. I need the police. I'm about to board a flight to London. 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 horrible crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

My review 

Daniel is hiding something from his parents.  Something that has led him to avoid visiting them since they retired to a remote farm in Sweden.  He soon discovers that they too are hiding things from him.  

First he receives an alarming call from his father (Chris) about his mother (Tilde) and then he receives a worrying one from his mother implicating his father.

When Tilde arrives in London, she asks Daniel to hear her out.  All will be revealed, she clarifies, but she has to be allowed to tell it her way.  All she asks is that he be impartial.  She then begins to give a detailed account of events that have been occurring since she and Chris, moved to Sweden.  This becomes the narrative of the story which is told as though a lawyer is presenting a case to a jury rather than a mother talking to her son.  Tilde outlines the 'facts' as they occurred.  However, not all the information she offers are facts.  She fills in gaps with speculation and, as the reader, I found myself saying - hang on a second, certain things just don't add up.  Even so, her account is believable and it becomes clear that something ugly and sinister is going on in the small rural community that she and Chris moved to - and it would seem Chris is involved.  From very early on Tilde hints at what may have occurred and who the victims are. 

Tilde predicts every move that Chris makes while she is in London giving her account to Daniel - such as his decision to fly to London, his attempts to stop her having an opportunity to convince Daniel that what she has to say is true.  It is also apparent that he withholds information - all of which leaves Daniel suspicious and forces him to consider the possibility that his father is capable of monstrous acts - either that or his mother needs psychiatric treatment - both hard to reconcile with.

In the end, it is for Daniel (and the reader) to decide who to believe.

I really enjoyed this book. The plot was the best thing about it for me.  For example, during Tilde's account she would go off on a tangent and talk about stuff that didn't seem to make sense or be relevant (such as the troll story), leaving the reader to question her sanity.  However, everything comes together and it all makes perfect sense.  

The book is about family secrets and lies.  It is also about a desperate cry for help and the need for redemption.  I admit I was apprehensive and felt I had to brace myself for the big reveal - the subtle hints from Tilde helped me prepare myself.  I felt so engaged I had to see it through to the end - which was unpredictable.

The story is based on a real experience - of the author - although much of the plot is fiction.  

The Farm is a treasure and  I will definitely be reading more from Tom Rob Smith. 
To find out more you can listen to Tom Rob Smith talk about The Farm and his writing as part of the crime fiction discussion on The Guardian Books Podcast.

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