Stella went in there, and then she came out and was rather quiet. We went back inside and talked some more, but I wanted to die. I don’t think it was Stella’s fault. It wasn’t as if she turned her nose up at our old Lunedale, or treated it like it wasn’t good enough or anything. I just remember thinking, I can never, ever, do this again. I must not let anyone I like see where I live.“
–The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
I found myself with a bit of spare time this weekend, so I thought I would challenge myself to read a book cover to cover over the three day weekend, and I enjoyed this one so much that I wanted to share with you all!
The Invisible Ones is a mystery novel about a half-Gypsy private investigator named Ray Lovell who is hired by a gypsy family to investigate the disappearance of their daughter Rose Janko. Over seven years ago, Rose was given away in an arranged marriage, and they have not heard from her since. The family she married into, the Jankos, claim that she abandoned her husband and child after discovering that the child has inherited the “family curse”, a mysterious illness that affects the child’s immune system, bone structure, and physical strength, the same illness that has taken the lives of most of the children of the family, the same illness that haunted Rose’s husband Ivo for most of his teenage years before his miraculous recovery.
Ray approaches the Jankos, whom he finds reluctantly willing to cooperate in the investigation. While none of the family members seem particularly suspicious, they all hold Ray at a careful distance, even as the mystery of Rose’s disappearance and the Janko family curse deepens.
I was fascinated and enthralled by the lives of the Gypsy families that are introduced in The Invisible Ones. The narration is split three ways: Ray, post-investigation, awake in the hospital after some sort of poisoning, Ray, mid-investigation of Rose and the Janko family, and JJ, a young teen in the Janko family, who has a unique perspective of his family as well as the world around him. This novel discusses in length the difficulties that modern Gypsies face, given a world that expects individuals to settle in a house with a certain amount of consistency. Splitting the narration did of course serve the plot of the novel, but it also was an excellent view into Gypsy lives. Ray Lovell’s father had settled in a house when he married Ray’s mother, so Ray does not seem to find himself the victim of much prejudice. He does, however, understand well the conflict among Gypsy families when some members settle in a house and others travel per their tradition. JJ, however, gave the reader a completely different perspective of these conflicting lifestyles. JJ attends school and enjoys his education, but his family still lives in trailers and moves frequently from place to place. JJ seems to enjoy their lifestyle, but feels the full force of its disadvantages. He does not have a mailing address. His attendance at school is inconsistent, depending on his family’s situation. He does not have anyone available to help him with schoolwork or even really sympathize with his struggles. And JJ is insightful enough to see all these factors and present them to the reader as they are.
I occasionally found myself lost in the complex relationships of the Janko family (JJ’s grandparents, great-uncle, mother, Uncle Ivo (Rose’s husband), and Christo (Rose’s son). I do wish that there had been a little more clarity here, and I think it would have helped if JJ’s grandfather had a more memorable personality, as I frequently was confused about whether his Gran was a grandmother after all, or if she was married to his great-uncle. I would have to flip back and sort the whole family out again before continuing.
However, the mystery of Rose’s disappearance and Ivo’s strange history still kept my interested in the story, and I never once thought about putting the book down. I found myself developing several theories during my reading, and was glad at the end that I had not successfully guessed the answer. I was surprised, but it still felt real to me (and I had gotten close to a few of the Janko family secrets).
I would definitely recommend this as a quick read this summer, perhaps over a long weekend or a vacation. I would rate this book a 7 out of 10, because I was confused about some of the family members but I still felt a strong motivation to finish, and was satisfied with the mystery’s resolution. Happy reading!