After the opening volleys of “The Farm”, I started to grow a little leery about whether or not this would be a favorable book for discussion. After all, it seemed like it had the making of a wonderfully dark, “who done it”, Scandi-thriller. Really, what would there be to talk about other than sharing our personal experiences of being strung along the story arc, right up until the big reveal?
Thankfully, author Tom Rob Smith gave us a little more to ponder in some simple, but emotionally stirring questions that had us choosing a side early on in the novel: how do you defend a loved one who is accused of being mentally ill, especially when on the surface, they appear totally coherent? Could you become the judge and jury that presides over a loved one’s freedom?
These questions shape a mystery that pits the innocence of a loving, nurturing mother against some of the greatest fallacies of man: thirst for and abuse of power, and the use of status to get away with some of the most heinous acts of abuse. But, the most important question that this book asks – according to the author – is: How well do you know somebody?
I’ve been thinking about that. Thinking about it in the news. In the blips of conversations overheard in public spaces. I’ve thought about it in my own relationships and the orbit that I am gaily locked into within a universe of loved ones and friends. One thing is certain in these spheres: there always seems to be some kind of tipping point that puts someone over the edge.
I wonder if there is an indefinable border that exists in the mind? On one side there is our life that has been shaped into what we consider as “normal”, but on the other side, there are states of being, utterly fantastical and inconceivable, that lay dormant, and can suddenly be brought to life, seemingly out of nowhere. I think that it is when we cross these borders – often unknowingly- that one truly has an experience that becomes nearly impossible to integrate into everyday life. Some of us may be able to return from this experience, despite being forever altered by the change, and remain somewhat intact. Others may never return, forever confused and left to remain lost within their own minds.
Finding the exact moment when one truly becomes “lost” was the real mystery I wanted to solve. The author put forth a case that was stylistically unique, and psychologically complex, all set within the idyllic landscape of rural Sweden. But it was the psychological landscapes that I ended up combing for clues, as I needed to know what was the exact moment that Tilde crossed those invisible borders of mind? Was it the summer of 1963? Or her first spring at the farm?
Either way, I don’t get an answer to my question. She crossed them, and we don’t know if she ever does come back. I do hope that characters in stories like her own are able to come back though, or else some of the beliefs that comfort me won’t be so assuring. I really do believe that you can experience unmeasurable trauma and come back. Your life may be forever altered, but there can be a new normal, once the past is finally confronted and left as something that no longer defines who you are.