The Invisible Ones is Stef Penney's second novel, but a first look at this author for me. It won't be my last - I'll be hunting down her first book- The Tenderness of Wolves.
The opening scene is one that will hook you into the story from the first page. Ray awakes in a hospital bed, paralyzed and with no memory of how he came to be there. Penney takes us back to the beginning and on the journey of how Ray ended up where he is.
Ray Lovell is a small time private investigator - he mostly does cheating spouse cases and avoids missing persons after a case went really wrong. But when Leon Wood comes into the office asking Ray to hunt down his daughter Rose, he hesitates. Wood is a traveller - a Romany - a gypsy. Leon has approached Ray as he knows that he is half gypsy himself. The case seems impossible. Wood has not seen his daughter in 7 years - since the day of her wedding in 1978 to Ivo Janko, the last in a line of 'black blood' travellers. But - he agrees.
As Ray delves back into a world he knows, but isn't a part of any longer, he is met with resistance, lies, indifference and hostility. No one is overly concerned where Rose is. "Suddenly I am absolutely determined to find her, because no one else seems really bothered".
The Invisible Ones is told from two parallel viewpoints - that of Ray and of JJ - a fourteen year old boy who is part of the Janko family - in alternating chapters. This was guaranteed to keep me up late - I simply had to keep reading to find out what was happening with the other character. The narrative with Ray flips from present to past as his memory slowly returns.
Ray and JJ are both on journeys, although they may not realize it. Ray rediscovers what it means to be gypsy and at the same time he tries to put his disastrous personal life back on track. Finding Rose becomes a quest long after others would have quit. JJ is an interesting character. He has never 'lived in bricks', having grown up in caravans. He is gypsy, but finds himself sometimes yearning for some 'gorgio' ways.(non Romany) But his ultimate loyalty is to his family. JJ is innocent, yet worldly - he was my favourite character.
I enjoyed the slow building pace of the book as the story slowly unfolded. The characters themselves were just as much of a mystery. I was fascinated with the descriptions of Romany life and culture. (The book is set in England) The whole premise of the book was unique and not your run of the mill mystery. I had paid enough attention to subtle clues dropped during the last half of the book that I had a good idea wheat the ending was going to be. But this didn't detract from my enjoyment - and I was only partially correct.
Definitely recommended - especially for those looking for something a little different.
This novel is set in the world of the Romany people, a world in which the Romanies themselves are trying hard to maintain traditional ways of life. A world that Ray Lovell, himself of Romany descent, thought he’d left behind him. Then Ray is asked to trace the missing wife of Ivo Janko, and soon discovers that the Janko clan has many secrets. Rumour has it that the missing wife ran away after it became clear that her child was afflicted with a genetic disease, leaving the baby behind with her husband and family. While the Jankos resist Lovell’s investigations, his ancestry enables him to make some headway. The search for Rose, the missing wife, takes Ray (and us) into a confusing maze of clan connections and half-truths.
The narrative is divided between Ray’s investigations and the thoughts of Jimmy Janko, who is known as JJ. Like Ray Lovell, JJ is of mixed blood and is trying to survive in two very different worlds: school, and the caravan. The caravans (there are five on the Janko site) allow little privacy, and contact with the outside world is regarded as unclean. But surely someone knows where Rose is, or what has happened to her?
I found this novel absorbing, with its glimpses into a totally unfamiliar way of life. Ms Penney made these characters come to life as recognisable individuals, with their own backgrounds, prejudices and values. And the ending? Well, I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t want to believe it. But it works. While this is a quite different novel from ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ in many ways, they share an atmosphere of isolation. In ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ it’s created by the physical environment, in this novel it’s a consequence of cultural difference.