Fiction — audiobook. Read by James Langton and Suzanne Toren. Blackstone Audio, 2014. 9 hours, 24 minutes. Library copy.
Out of the blue, Daniel receives a phone call from his father in Sweden informing him that his mother has been committed to a mental hospital. According to Daniel’s father, his mother, Tilde, has begun to imagine everything from a seemingly innocuous encounter with an elk to accusing the local community leader of harming his adopted, teenage daughter.
Daniel immediately books a flight to Sweden borrowing money from his same-sex partner — whom he has kept secret from his parents for years despite them living together in London — and planning to spend an extended period of time helping his mother patch her suddenly fragile mental health back together.
However, before he can board his flight to Sweden from Heathrow, Daniel receives a phone call from his mother informing him that his father is a liar and is working in cahoots with the community to cover up the crimes inflicted upon this poor girl. Torn between his parents but refusing to believe the woman who raised him is now crazy, Daniel agrees to listen to his mother’s story and decide whom to believe and whom to trust.
This psychological thriller alternates between Tilde and Daniel’s point of views as Tilde tries to sway her son’s understanding of events and Daniel tries to determine what is truth, lie, or imagination. The reader faces the same dilemma — believe Tilde or dismiss her story just as her husband has done. And Smith never allows one side of the story to hold sway for long introducing past events — namely, the story of Tilde and her closest friend during her childhood — to unsettle the so-called truth the reader has latched onto.
I’m rather surprised by all the criticism for this novel, which seems to largely stem from comparisons to Smith’s Child 44. After nearly six years, I’ve come to associate Smith’s name with suspenseful, quality writing rather than particulars about his previous novel and I found this novel supported rather disputed this association.
A deeply engrossing book, I found myself listening to the audiobook even after I arrived home from work in the evening. I’m so pleased two narrators were used to narrate the audiobook — James Langton as Daniel and Suzanne Toren as Tilde — because, otherwise, I’m afraid I might have struggled to keep the narration straight. Two narrators also highlighted the hesitation and lack of truth on either side of the conversations between Daniel and Tilde.