Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

I absolutely adored Stef Penney's first novel, The Tenderness of Wolves.  It has probably the best few sentences I have read in many years, and they still can make me cry just thinking about them.

So I expected a lot from her second novel, The Invisible Ones.  This novel is very different from Wolves; it takes place in the 1980's in England, where Wolves  takes place in the Canadian wilderness in the late 1800's.  

The novel is told through two characters:  Ray Lovell, a private detective, and JJ, a 14 year old boy who lives with his family in trailers.  Why?  Because they are Romany  aka Gypsies.  Ray is also half Romany, and because of this, he is called by a father who's looking for his daughter, Rose, who went missing 7 years previously.  Rose was married briefly to Ivo, a young man who is also Romany, and the cousin of JJ.  She had a child, Christo, who has inherited the Jenko family mysterious disease which kills the male children before they can reach adulthood.  All except Ivo, who was taken to Lourdes for a miracle, and recovered from the disease to reach adulthood, marry Rose, and have Christo.  But there's more to this story.  It is a tangled web of lies, and deception.

What happened to Rose?  That question is what this novel pivots around.  Ray has really nothing to go on; the Gypsy lifestyle means people move around constantly, don't see family for months or years, and is very closed off to gorjio- non-Gypsy people.  They are a very secret society, and it seems that Ray will never crack this case.  

There's a lot going on in this novel, although I felt at times it did drag a bit.  Ray is going through a divorce, he's drinking, and he's lost.  He's attracted to Lulu, JJ's Great Aunt, and a Gypsy who has left the trailer life and is living in "bricks" and holds down a job as a caretaker.  She's the only one who will talk to Ray on a regular basis.  And JJ.  He's a smart kid, and he's always left out of family discussions--he knows there are secrets to be told, but Tene, his Great Uncle, and the father of Ivo, will not tell.  

What did I think of this novel?  I liked it.  Not as much as her first effort, which was spectacular.  I did enjoy reading about the Romany life in England.  It's hard to get the whole picture when you've only read very little about it, and watched all the episodes of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. A good history novel about the Romany would certainly add to your reading experience. This novel's atmosphere is dark, dreary, full of secrets, and just plain sad.  Sad for a way of life that's slowly disappearing, sad for a family that holds onto secrets for too long, and sad for Ray, who's struggle with building a life after his marriage ends is painful to watch.  

The writing is beautiful, and the end leaves you with a few questions.  But that, I believe, is intentional.  Certainly something that will keep a book discussion going for awhile.  

My rating:  3/5 Writing is amazing, the subject is fascinating.  A little long, though.

1 comment :

  1. oh... I hate it feeling that if 50-100 pages were removed the book would be fantastic. Happens more than I like.