Terese’s Thoughts: The Farm

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

First Line: Until that phone call it had been an ordinary day.

Summary: The book begins with the protagonist Daniel getting a call from his father telling him that Daniel’s mother is unwell and has been losing her grip on reality. Daniel is in his mid-twenties and living with his boyfriend in London. Daniel’s mother is Swedish but had been living in the U.K. since she was a teenager. She and Daniel’s father sold their landscaping company a couple years prior and bought a rundown farmhouse in rural Sweden, planning to spend their retirement fixing up the place and living off the land.

Daniel is shocked by his father’s news, since he has always known his mother to be practical and down-to-earth. Before Daniel catches his plane for Sweden, his mother shows up at the airport in London. She is disheveled and gaunt, a noticeable change from her usual clean and tidy appearance. She tells Daniel his father has concocted the entire story of her erratic behavior, that she is in fact very sane, and that Daniel’s father and others from their village in Sweden are trying to get her committed to an asylum so she won’t reveal what they have done. She claims she has evidence in the leather bag she clutches and insists they go somewhere safe to talk.

The remainder of the book is his mom telling the story of their time in Sweden leading up to her arrival in London, carefully revealing her evidence as she goes. As Daniel listens and tries to determine whose version of events is real, he also learns more about his parents and the complexities of their lives. And he reveals more of who he is to his mom, if somewhat anxiously. He grapples with discovering that the narrative of his upbringing he has always told himself does not match what his mother recounts for him. In the end, he must make a decision about who to believe: his mom or his dad.

My Thoughts: This is a really fun read. I could hardly put the book down—I needed to hear more of Daniel’s mom’s story about the insular Swedish village and the cast of characters who lived there. The pacing of the story is perfect. His mom reveals events slowly, dropping hints as she goes. I couldn’t wait to find out what had happened (according to his mom). It also brings up interesting questions about the subjectivity of truth and reality. And of course as the reader, you ask yourself what you would do in the same situation. It is not an enviable dilemma Daniel faces, and as he tries to figure out which one of his parents to trust, the reader tries as well. 

What’s Ashley Reading?: In the Garden of Spite

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

First line: PERSONAL – comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in LaPorte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

Summary: Belle Gunness, a Norwegian immigrant, has learned some hard lessons early on. Upon her arrival in Chicago she married with the hopes of achieving the American dream. But the life she dreamed of did not come true. She was disappointed in her husband, home and lifestyle. She must make her own way in the world by any means necessary. Mysterious deaths, house fires and heated arguments the legend of the Black Widow of LaPorte begins to take hold.

My Thoughts: Before finding this book on Netgalley I had never heard of Belle Gunness. She was a female serial killer. She killed an estimated fourteen people but may be linked to many more. I was really intrigued by the premise, the story and the character of Belle. It was very disturbing to be inside her head. She rationalized everything she did. But even a book about a serial killer I found much of it to be drawn out. There was long periods of time passing and very little happening. I think that much of this could have been taken out and the story would have felt more thrilling.

After finishing I visited www.newpapers.com via the library’s learning databases. I wanted to see what the newspapers of the time were reporting about this woman. Many had the same headline or story. Then there was a resurgence of sightings and murders that some believed were connected to her. There is still lots of mystery around this century old murderer. It’s crazy how reality can be even stranger than fiction.

FYI: Very gruesome at parts.