The Farm by Tom Rob Smith (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014. 368 pp)
Tom Rob Smith was born in 1979 to a Swedish mother and an English father. His bestselling novels in the Child 44 trilogy were international best sellers. Smith has won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
The Day It Changes
Do you remember the day it all changed in your family? Do you remember the moment the bubble burst around the family utopia? It might have been early in life. It could be much later after you are out of the house. But it always seems like life provides some ammo for us all to reconsider what it means to be family. Tom Rob Smith brings this point home with his thriller, The Farm.
Set in London and Sweden, The Farm forces the reader to find truth in competing narratives. The novel begins with our protagonist, Daniel, receiving a phone call from his father. A call that transforms his life and his idyllic view of his parents. Daniel’s father announces to his son some devastating news—his mother is unwell.
Not So Fast
Daniel’s parents, having moved from London to the pastoral regions of Sweden, looked to enjoy an austere retirement. But something has gone horribly wrong, to the point where Daniel’s mum requires institutionalizing.
Booking a flight out the next morning, Daniel receives one more phone call—from an unlikely source.
“’I’m on the payphone and don’t have much credit. 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’” (12).
With parents conveying opposite stories, Daniel must choose. Since his mum will be arriving shortly, he can give her an honest assessment. He can let her prove her case.
And that he does for most of this book. Daniel interjects here and there but mostly we hear his mum’s story about a gruesome story of male dominance, sexual violence, and the dark stain blotting out the rural beauty of the land.
But is Daniel’s mother to be trusted?
The Farm explores mental instability, family structure, and dominance. The rural backdrop makes the narrative even more suspenseful as you get the feeling of it being quiet, a little too quiet.
But for me, the intrigue of The Farm surrounds the family relationships. As a child, you grow up without any assumptions about your family. Your parents are constant and you have no inside look at their relationships. Whether you live comfortably or struggle for every cent, you live blissfully ignorant as a kid. Even if your parents give you a glimpse into adulthood in certain areas, the view will never be complete.
But the day will always come when the façade comes crashing down. Your parents aren’t who you thought they were. And who you are in relationship to them will forever change.
It’s tough to swallow and The Farm brings these themes to the forefront. Despite its difficult motifs, the book is rewarding and worth reading.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5