Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Review of The Farm - Tom Rob Smith's 4th Novel - And 1st Since His Child 44 Trilogy

Before I actually review this book, I have to preface it by saying I LOVED the Child 44 trilogy.  That's why book 1, Child 44, is in Volume I of Fiction For The Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR), and The Secret Speech (#2) is in Volume III of FFTNFR.  That makes it very tough to review The Farm fairly.  This feels like Jeannette Walls and The Glass Castle. That was so good (it's on my top 12 all-time) that when I read her next 2, Half-Broke Horses (a semi-biographical book about her mother and grandmother) and The Silver Star (her 1st novel), I found myself comparing those to TGC.  It was totally unfair - but I couldn't help it.

So, while I was reading The Farm, I was unconsciously (or consciously) comparing it to Child 44, The Secret Speech, and Agent 6.  The comparison was not kind to The Farm.  It was nowhere near as good.     In fact, I gave it a 2.5/4.  Would it have been a 3/4 if I didn't have the trilogy to compare it to?  Maybe.  And maybe not.

It was interesting to hear Tom talk about The Farm when we saw him last week at Book Passage.  The story is about a 29-year old Englishman with an English father and a Swedish mother.  This is actually true for Tom himself.  So there was a basic premise that came from his own lineage.  I don't know how much of the rest of it was autobiographical, if any.  And I don't know if that had anything to do with me not liking the book all that much.  This kind of thought process is too deep for me.  (Remember - I run away from any book that has Pulitzer Prize Winner on the cover!)  So what is the book about?

Until the moment he received a frantic call from his father, Daniel believed his parents were headed into a peaceful, well-deserved retirement. They had sold their home and business in London, and said "farewell to England" with a cheerful party where all their friends had gathered to wish them well on their great adventure: setting off to begin life anew on a remote, bucolic farm in rural Sweden.

But with that phone call, everything changes. Your mother's not well, his father tells him. She's been imagining things--terrible, terrible things. She's had a psychotic breakdown, and has been committed to a mental hospital.

Daniel prepares to rush to Sweden, on the first available flight the next day. Before he can board the plane, his father contacts him again with even more frightening news: his mother has been released from the hospital, and he doesn't know where she is.

Then, he hears from his mother:

I'm sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad. I don't need a doctor. I need the police. I'm about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother's unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a horrible crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father. 

The storyline is okay.  It just didn't grab me.  I didn't care enough about what happened to Daniel or his mother and father or any of the other characters.  Despite all of that, Tom is a good writer.  Witness:

"...but today the lies were painful, like running on a twisted ankle."

"...yet when it came to conclusions...I had the impression she'd much prefer to present them unshaped, like the model kits that required assembly."

And the rest of the book is well-written too.  But it wasn't enough for me.  In fact, it may be that I'm in the minority on this.  On the back of the book jacket, there are glowing quotes (what other kind would there be on a book jacket?) from JoJo Moyes and Jeffrey Deaver, along with the Times (U.K.), Guardian (U.K.), and Independent (U.K.).  I will also point out, though, that Goodreads has a 3.67/5 out of 1063 ratings, and Amazon is 3.6 from 74 ratings.  Decent but not stellar.

So you decide.  You won't dislike the book, I'm pretty sure.  And some of you might like it a lot.  If you haven't read the Child 44 trilogy, I think there's a better chance that you will have more positive thoughts about The Farm than I do.  Still, a 2.5/4 is very readable.


  1. Well, darn, I was hoping this would be as good as his previous books.

  2. I know what you mean. However, there could be a lot of disagreement on this one.

  3. Good to know... I have had my eye on this one.

  4. As I mentioned to bermudaonion, I hope that I'm not too wrapped up in the Child 44 trilogy to appreciate this one.

  5. I think I added the trilogy to my wishlist because you have raved about them :)