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.