Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith Review

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! It definitely wasn't predictable and, even though I knew Tilde was an unreliable narrator, some of her story was bound to be true - the excitement was in discovering what was and what wasn't. In other words, this is 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.

The Farm

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