Joanne Ramos’ ambitious debut novel, The Farm, questions the ethics of surrogacy and charts the lives of four women who become involved in a spa-like fertility facility in a bid to have a more secure, comfortable life.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos is an ambitious novel which aims to deliver an appealing, plot-driven read as well as prompting the reader to think about issues such as the balance between career aspirations and motherhood, issues of immigration and long-distance parenting. Ultimately, The Farm asks us to consider which of our needs will we sacrifice to satiate our wants.
Initially, The Farm reads like an Atwoodian dystopia where immigrant women act as surrogate wombs for the super-wealthy and live in uneasy luxury for the duration of the pregnancy. Their every move is monitored and regulated by the spa-like totalitarian ‘Golden Oaks’ facility. However, it is quickly apparent that this is not an impeccably world-built story, but the frightening plausible premise makes one wonder if a similar facility doesn’t already exist.
And what would be wrong if it did? Under-privileged women being paid and pampered to surrogate for others. The concept of surrogacy is not in question, although one of the characters, ‘host’ Reagan, wants to know that what she is doing has some purpose beyond the financial transaction involved. The Farm‘s verdict on surrogacy, therefore, is that it is fine if there is a good reason for it. The commoditisation of the womb and subsequent control of the host is unpicked in detail as the novel progresses and through its cast of characters: from immigrant hosts – mainly Filipino – and the arch-villain, Mae Yu, herself a first-generation American of Chinese immigrant parents.
The novel interpolates the points-of-view of Jane, a Filipino ‘host’ and a single parent who wants a better life for her young daughter Amalia; Ate, Jane’s cousin and mentor who is in high demand as a baby whisperer (meanwhile her own children are looked after by someone else far away in the Philippines); Mae, the worldly epitome of the American Dream; Reagan, another host at Golden Oaks but in less desperate circumstances than Jane and therefore able to question and stand up for her rights. The four female perspectives illustrate different aspects of the complicated issues at stake.
The storyline sometimes descends into the minutia of daily life, which is slightly tedious at times, but it still succeeds in provoking thought about the gritty choices often made in the pursuit of a glossier future. The Farm is a gripping read that invites us to discuss valid issues and leaves us to consider questions around the ethically unchartered waters of scientific possibility.
Joanne Ramos’ The Farm is published by Bloomsbury Fiction and is available to purchase online and in all good bookshops around the UK.