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.
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.
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.
on 17 May 2015
I read this in 2 days. It was recommended by a friend and I am grateful to her because I'm not sure I would have come across it before. It starts with Daniel, the son of a Swedish mother and an English father, receiving a phone call from his father who, along with Daniel's mum, has recently moved to a Swedish farm they have bought in which to live out their old age they are 67). Daniel's father tells him his mum has been making outlandish accusations and has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. As Daniel is preparing to fly to Sweden, his mum phones him to say she is coming to London. They hole up in his flat and his mum outlines her allegations, telling chronologically her and his father's lives since arriving in Sweden 4 months earlier, using "evidence" she has gathered in a leather satchel.
It is intricately plotted and brings rural Sweden to life. As a reader, you never know if Tilde's (Daniel's mum) story is real or the product of a fevered mind. There is much drama and danger, whether real or imagined by Tilde. The ending is very satisfying. A brilliant read.
on 17 May 2015
This is one of those books which operates on several levels. It can be read as a mystery/thriller, in this context I think it is maybe somewhere around a 3 star book. The plot when finally exposed is not earth shattering, although it does have a couple of interesting twists along the way. I think where the book really gets its 5 stars is that extra level which you have to actually engage your brain to get to. The main characters have their flaws and aren't necessarily particularly attractive, but in many ways the character and self-absorption of main narrator Daniel is fundamental to how the central plot, the sanity or insanity dilemma of his mother is revealed. Without Daniel's initial childlike view of his parents and subsequent enforced review of how he sees them towards an adult perspective, the story would be much less absorbing. The real fascination for me of this story is the shock the whole situation inflicts on Daniel and how coming to terms with that shock is essential to unpicking the rights and wrongs of the whole situation.
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.
on 26 May 2015
From some of the negative reviews i have read, I understand that lots of people seem to have been disappointed by the plot. But this is not a novel in which the plot is king, it is about the nature of indiviudal perception and memory. That we all have such different views of the novel speaks to the essence of the very theme it explores.
I, personally, really like stories that play with ideas of truth, who it belongs to and who creates it, what happens when one person's truth clashes against another. Reality to us all is what we see and feel and believe, but also what those around us agree to be real. What happens when the consent of the collective pushes back against what we believe to be true? Do we have the strength to stand firm against the majority explanation or do we change ourselves? This is the essential crux of this book. Tilde holds to her own story, and this forces her into such a position of isolation that she is believed to be crazy. For the reader, the tension is in the pursuit of truth, who do you believe?
Imagine yourself in a situation like hers. What would you do to pursue your truth?
What is the truth? Well that is answered at the end by the merging of individual stories to form a collective understanding. The author does well not to entirely vindicate Tilde, but reveals how she was both right and wrong.
Overall, the novel was a brilliant examination of human psychology, very different to the usual crime thriller.
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.
on 5 February 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the story has continued to live in my head for some time after I finished the book. I would strongly recommend this book. The story had suspense and a vast amount of uncertainty and ambivalence. Very thought provoking!
on 17 April 2014
Tom Rob Smith comes trailing clouds of critical acclaim from Child 44, and rightly so, with the result that expectations of the Farm were high. I was dreadfully disappointed.
As others have observed, mental illness is difficult to get 'right', and there are certainly the bones of a good story here, bit it's SO badly written I could hardly believe it. The great slabs of the narrator's mother talking to him clump along like one of the trolls so frequently mentioned. Try reading some of it aloud - does it sound even remotely like any mother you've ever known talking to her son?
I'm really sorry to say that for me this is a dreadful book, and I rather resent the time I spent vainly hoping that it would improve if I persevered. No such luck. Oh dear.