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3.7 out of 5 stars
The Farm
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2014
Having read all of Tom Rob Smith's previous books I found myself distinctly underwhelmed after the first 50 or so pages of The Farm but it's very much a "slow burn" novel. It's a very simple idea that meanders a bit,has you wondering about most of the characters then springs more of a twist than an earth-shattering surprise. While it didn't really excite me,it's not that kind of book,it did slowly draw me in and I found myself reading it cover to cover in a bit over 4 hours,not my intention when I picked it up.
The story revolves around a phone call the lead character,Daniel, receives from his Mother in Sweden revealing a deep and dark conspiracy with his Father as one of those involved. From there on we're not sure who or what to believe,is the Mother mad? Has the Father been sucked into something distinctly evil with his new Swedish neighbours? That's the bare bones of what I found to be a very involving book,not only was it a mystery but it explored relationships,how the past can affect people's behaviour and perceptions in the present and how people and events are very often not what they appear.
I did find the ending a bit messy and oddly while it gripped me I was never entirely convinced by some of the the characters,we don't learn much about Daniel and even less about his partner who could have been written out quite easily for all he does in the book,the Father likewise is never more than two dimensional despite his situation with his wife being stressful and emotive.
I did enjoy it but it's good rather than great,Tom Rob Smith does however deserve praise for stepping out of his comfort zone.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2015
I found the storyline pretty gripping and the whole "who's really telling the truth" thing really original. The fact that the book isn't broken up by chapters made me read on and on and on and is clearly a clever tool, it keeps you gripped with no suggestions of breaks.

The story appears to go strongly in a good direction and suddenly out of nowhere nosedives into a totally different angle. That angle could have been really great but it actually flattens the whole book in a bit of an anticlimax. The story is otherwise well composed.

I would recommend this book for a good ride, but be mindful that the ending could be better. On the other hand, no one really enjoys finishing a good book, so maybe I was expecting too much.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 March 2015
Daniel’s parents, Chris and Tilde, have retired to a farm in the Swedish countryside. All is going well, he thinks, and the only problem is how he’s going to reveal to them that he’s gay. That is until he receives a strange email from his mother and then a phone call from his father - Tilde is insane, says Chris, and she needs help. Meanwhile Tilde, arriving in London alone to meet Daniel, insists that she’s being hunted by a group of murderers, including Chris, after she uncovered a horrific conspiracy. Daniel has only hours to decide: who’s telling the truth?

That setup is a bit misleading - it makes you think that there are two sides to this story when it’s basically all Tilde. With all the comparisons other reviewers have made to Gone Girl I was expecting a half and half approach, with Chris and Tilde telling their stories to Daniel. Instead Chris is more of a background character and The Farm is mostly Tilde’s tale. That’s not to say that’s bad in any way at all, it’s just a warning for what to expect going in.

I flew through The Farm at a pace I rarely set with novels these days. Tilde’s increasingly dark tale is so beguiling and the atmosphere conjured up is so menacing and paranoid, you find yourself putting off things you should be doing so you can read 10 more pages… and then 10 more… and then you realise you’ve read a third of the book in one sitting, your eyes are tired but you so want to keep going, you have to see what happens next! In other words, the best kind of story any fiction fan would want to read.

The supporting cast are wonderfully intimidating. At the head of it all is the farmer Hakan, a giant of a man who controls the small community under him including the sleazy mayor and the celebrity “doctor” who uses his power to have Tilde committed. Tilde takes Daniel (and us) through the beautiful Swedish landscape where terrible things happen - young girls go missing, trolls lurk in the shadows, convoys of cars travel through the night, and hidden, locked doors hold forgotten secrets deep within.

Because the story is so one-sided, there were only really a few ways the story could’ve ended but, without giving anything away, I’ll say that the finale is a bit unsatisfying. Tilde’s story leading up to the final act was so breathless and exciting. The ending is a let down because it’s not as dramatic, though it does explain everything in a level-headed way. It’s like in some mystery stories where the focus is so intense on this one villainous character that it’s like it couldn’t be them in the end because that’d be too obvious, so the reveal of the baddie is instead some character who’s barely in the story - that kind of resolution is ok but not great.

Aside from the weak third act, The Farm is a really fun, really engrossing read that I highly recommend. There’s some interesting themes explored like the power of storytelling and families and secrets but mostly it’s a terrific thriller that does exactly that.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2015
I think 'The Farm' is Tom Rob Smith's best novel since 'Child 44'. I loved that, and was then somewhat disappointed by both 'The Secret Speech' and 'Agent 6', neither of which I felt reached the same heights. 'The Farm' has a totally different setting and is written in a completely different style, and I think Mr Smith deserves enormous credit for trying - and in my opinion succeeding! - something so new. I thought 'The Farm' very intelligently written, well-paced, and above all, compelling. I was unable to make up my mind whether Tilde was unbalanced, manipulative, or indeed the victim of a conspiracy as she claimed. Neither had I anticipated the explanation of her story, which I thought was very cleverly thought out. Without wishing to give too much away, I loved the way the symbolism of trolls was used, too. An excellent read, and an original one, too. Bravo, Mr Smith!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2015
I was really disappointed with this book. The build up, the mother running away from her husband who had her put in an asylum in Sweden to her son in London. Once with her son she began to relate her story since she had moved to The Farm in Sweden. One could call it a dad tale of a lady who had mental problems but this didn't ring true. Eventually her son goes to Sweden to seek the truth. He finds the truth out about Freya and Mia. But at the end there were so many questions unanswered. Where the neighbours against her? Had her husband changed beyond recognition. Was Haken the rich local farmer the head of a gang and had a hold over the local people.. When I got to the end I felt really let down because there were so many threads to the story that had not been resolved.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 June 2015
So Mark Billingham thinks "You will not read a better thriller this year" does he? This is where he and I disagree. This book was so highly recommend as a gripping nailbiter - how could I resist!

Where do I begin? Okay - brief - very brief - -synopsis. Daniel's parents have left the UK for a better life in Sweden. He gets a call from his father to say his mother (Daniel's mother) is missing; Daniel is just about to leave for Sweden when his missing mother contacts him - she's about to arrive in London. She has a horrifying tale to tell. Okay - I'm now prepared to be gripped by this Thrilling Tale of Terror and Awfulness. What follows is so slow, meandering, and let's not sugar-coat it - boring, I cannot be bothered with it any longer. Tilde, the mother, does most of the talking, but they way she talk is most strange - I can't quite put my finger on it; okay she's Swedish but she has lived in London most of her adult life, speaks English fluently, no longer uses her native language, and yet she has the most strange speech patterns, even allowing for her questionable mental state. It is also hard to believe that this whole monologue takes place in one day, and not even a full day at that. I also found Daniel's constant references to "my Mum" oddly juvenile; it just didn't sit well.

The characters are so flat and lifeless, and actually quite unlikable. I want characters I can sympathise with or identify with - I actually wanted Tilde just to go away and stop bothering me. Would she ever get to the point! Daniel is a wuss of a man who hasn't the gumption to divulge his secret to these parents he apparently loves....and what exactly is the point of introducing his partner, Mark, and then having him fade away into the shadows - likewise Chris, Daniel's father. Here is a character who obviously has a crucial role to play but he's as one-dimensional as a piece of paper

Admittedly it did pass my 1/3rd rule, but here I am 2/3rds into it and I really haven't the will or interest to finish it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Daniel, aged 29, lives in London with his partner Mark. His parents, Chris and Tilde, have sold their business and retired to a rural idyll in Sweden. As the novel opens, Chris rings Daniel to tell him that his mother has become psychotic and has been hospitalized. Daniel makes arrangements to fly to Sweden, but before he does so, Tilde contacts him and travels to London. There is nothing wrong with her, she tells Daniel. She is a victim of a conspiracy: people (including Chris) want her incarcerated because she knows too much.

‘Chronology is sanity.’

Much of the balance of the novel is between Daniel and Tilde as she sets out the evidence for her claims. Tilde claims that a neighbour by the name of Hakan Greggson has set out to befriend Chris and shame her, that his actions have brought together a group of people in order to discredit her, to have her locked up, to protect themselves. Daniel has to decide whether he can believe Tilde’s version of events or, should he believe his father? Is Tilde being victimised, or is she unwell and in need of treatment? Where (and what) is the truth?

‘There was a reason we were at this farm. We belonged here.’

Daniel has his own secrets, and so does Tilde. But can there be secrets in a situation when so much rides on truth? Who will Daniel believe, and what will the outcome be? How objective can Daniel be?

‘My defences crumbled. I told him everything.’

I couldn’t put this book down. It seemed that every time I turned the page I had a different possibility to consider. While Tom Rob Smith provides a narrative that can be read one way, and then another, Daniel needs to decide – quickly – what to do. I’m grateful for a timely rainy day that allowed me to read the book in one sitting.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2014
When I bought 'The Farm' there was almost overwhelming praise for it, both in the media and on book review sites like this, but I didn't enjoy reading it.

I do accept that this is a different type of book from those in the Child 44 'trilogy', and I had no problem with the change of pace, but this felt to me like a hurried draft of a potentially good book which badly needed editing.

The following contains quotes from the book, but no plot spoilers:

On reading the brilliant Child 44 'trilogy' I became something of a Tom Rob Smith admirer, and started reading this book eagerly anticipating more magic. By the fourth sentence on the first page though I knew there was something not quite right. The sentence ends "...sliding the phone out of my pocket, pressing it against my ear - sweat pooling on the screen." I stopped reading to think about this. 'Pooling' is a very liquid thing. It's not just smearing, or wetting, but involves flowing and gathering. Besides, could liquid pool on a screen when it's vertical against an ear? I didn't think so. No, wait a minute - this was Tom Rob Smith writing, author of the perfectly-crafted Child 44 etc - I must have read it wrong, or I was just being pedantic. I tried to put it out of my mind, and read on.

A large part of the book is more or less a monologue where the mother tells her side of the story, but the details padding out her account of her life and troubles seem annoyingly unnecessary for the narrative, -especially as she herself knows that there is an urgent time constaint and she needs to tell her side of the story quickly. I think TRS himself became aware that this stringing out of the story could be annoying to readers, as he made her son become frustrated by it too, and his mother constantly excuses her failure to get to the point. But it felt very drawn-out and clumsy to me, increasingly like a huge shaggy dog story.

The mother's monologue sections are also often written NOT as the monlogue they are, but as narrative. Sometimes this was bad enough for the speech to become incredible (and not in the right way!). For example (and remember these are spoken words): "In the service station ...I washed my face with a dollop of pungent pink soap from the dispenser, straightening my hair, taming the wild strands.". Nobody speaks like this. Not even someone speaking a foreign language (she is Swedish, but speaking in English). This is descriptive narrative prose, not speech. An author might be forgiven a lapse like this occasionally, but that is what editors and proof readers are for.

There are also two unsettlingly undefined characters close to Daniel in the book. This is hard to explain... we know Daniel lives with a male partner, and we meet him but learn nothing about him, his character or their relationship. Also, Daniel's own father has no real character and there is little interaction between him and Daniel, or even with his own wife. Maybe he is easily led astray by the powerful neighbour in Sweden, or helpless in the face of his wife's illness, or just unsupportive of her in her hour of need, depending on which story you accept, but nothing about him is resolved, right to the end.

As I neared the end of the book, I found I was speculating more in my mind about it's execution than it's plot. Never a good sign I think. Why all the unnecessary details? Why were the monologue/narrative errors not picked up in early drafts? Why the weakly defined characters? Unless... unless the story is more than just a story. Unless it is true. That way the apparently unnecessary details around his mother's story are those which TRB and his mother remembered, so they were included whether relevant to the 'plot' or not. His father and partner might be real characters too - that could explain the anbsence of strong (and possibly negative?) character traits which might have driven a more powerful story, but which couldn't be included either because they weren't true, or because he still had a relationship to maintain with these people. Also, if any proof readers (friends, relatives, or professional) knew the book was based on truth, maybe they'd feel they couldn't be too critical?

Just before I finished reading, I remembered my daughter once said that TRS had one foreign parent. I asked her, and she said his mother was Swedish. I told her my feeling that the story might be true, or at least based on fact. She said something like: "Maybe, but I don't think he's gay. I think he has children." After a few minutes on her smartphone of course, she found TRS interviews and articles which confirmed that the story is based on real events and characters in his life.

Surprisingly, I didn't feel any satisfaction at having worked this out. Just disappointment that TRS didn't write a totally immersive book -whether based on truth or fiction- even though I'm sure he has the ability. I finished reading The Farm, and found the ending fine. Little things still niggled though. In the final paragraph is the line "I was seated next to Mark, who was seated beside my dad, seated beside Anders, the four of us side-by-side...". Clumsy, I thought, ...just not Tom Rob Smith at his best.

This may seem unkind, but I feel that following the success of the Child 44 trilogy TRS may have been under pressure by Simon & Schuster to write the next blockbuster, but that ideas weren't forthcoming. Maybe S&S should have been more patient, and "Write what you know" isn't always the best advice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2015
The narrator's mother is declared insane by those around her, including her husband. She returns to England from Sweden to escape those who want to incarcerate her in an asylum, taking refuge with her son and stating her case to him, while being all the time conscious that she is being pursued by her husband. The largest part of the book is taken up by her story, as stated by her to her son, who tries hard to keep an open mind. I did not predict the ending. The story is well plotted and unfolds well. I read this book pretty quickly - all the way through I was eager to find out what happened next.
I will be reading more books by this author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2015
Having read Child 44 a while back I had high hopes of this one. The problem for me is with the two narrators, mother and son. Most of the narrative was the mother's and it is here that the delivery of the story lacked any credibility. Her spoken narration to her son came across as artificial and often completely inappropriate. Her language was melodramatic, far from a normal speech pattern. It was a page turner only inasmuch as the author used the manipulative device of ending a page with lines like "and this is what I found..." only for this particular reader to feel more irritated than engaged with the writing.
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