Eek! It’s been a while since I last posted. A new job, a laptop that took early retirement and half-marathon training have eaten up my time this summer. But I now have a few days off, a week-old baby laptop and tired legs fit for nothing but sitting at my desk. Time to catch up!
The view from my study window this afternoon really brought home the fact that summer is nearly over. All of the children in my extended family will be heading back to school next week, as will several of the adults. The weather has turned cooler and my night-time walk with LP has been carried out in progressive darkness. This year it feels a lot like summer has passed me by. The usual markers of the season’s passing lost out to my work schedule, including my best-laid plans for big summer reads. But while I’ve not read half as much this summer as I usually do, there have been a few books read from start to finish (and several more started but not yet finished!) including one enjoyable title brought to mind this afternoon by my neighbour’s labours.
A friend recommended The Farm to me. He’s a big fan of Tom Rob Smith’s earlier Child 44 trilogy which aren’t really the kind of books that I’d pick off a shelf for myself but my friend had read The Farm on holiday and thought it might be just the thing to hold my interest in the limited time I had for reading at that point. Which it absolutely did. I finished it off in my garden one sunny evening after work and fairly dallied with sunburn in order to get to the end.
I don’t have a great record of enjoying whodunnits but the ‘wot-got-dun’ of The Farm was a real page-turner of a mystery. As the novel opens, the 29-year-old narrator, Daniel, is making his way home through London carrying his grocery shopping. Several months earlier, his English father and Swedish-born mother had retired to a ramshackle farm in Sweden and while Daniel hasn’t yet visited them there, a phone call from his father shatters the illusions he had about their supposed pastoral idyll. Shocked to hear his even-tempered father crying over the phone, Daniel is further appalled to find out that his mother has not only been unwell, but that a psychotic episode has now resulted in her being committed. Daniel makes preparations to join his father in Sweden but before he can leave for the airport, his father informs him that his mother has run away and is believed to be making her way to Heathrow. When Tilde and Daniel find each other, she has a very different version of events to tell her son and, already stripped of everything he thought he knew about his family, he and the reader struggle to piece together a credible narrative out of the conflicting stories, a process which ultimately forces him to choose between his parents and re-examine his place within his family.
The events of The Farm are recounted in bite-size pieces – short chapters, paragraphs separated by ellipses – as Daniel’s mother tries to reconstruct a coherent chronology from her own recollections, a handful of ‘evidence’ which may or may not support her interpretation of events and a certain amount of supposition. That authorial choice turns out to be quite clever as it not only keeps the reader ploughing on in search of answers but also creates a number of half-filled pages which force the reader to acknowledge the gaps in Tilde’s story and allow them room for their own interpretation of what they have been told. At the point where such a style may have become tedious, the narrative changes direction and Daniel relinquishes his passive role as listener and takes up as detective instead.
While I had guessed several plot points well in advance of their revelation, The Farm kept me interested til the end. I’m not well-read in Scandi-noir but several long train journeys through the Swedish countryside have given me a bank of mental images to draw on to create the world surrounding Chris and Tilde’s farm. The addition of elements from Swedish folklore added to the appeal for me and left me with a little more research to do after I’d finished the book. Which is, more often than not, what I look for in a mystery: a solution to the crime, certainly, but a few extra take-home questions to mull over later and I’m a happy little reader.
Evidence suggests, however, that I will never make a happy little farmer – whether it was the novel’s suggestion of murderous neighbours or dust from this afternoon’s freshly made windrows, my late-summer allergies and I will be staying far away from farms for the foreseeable future!