Friday, April 27, 2012

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney




 25. The Invisible Ones
by Stef Penney
fiction, 2012
library book four
finished 4/27/12




When I finished The Invisible Ones this afternoon, I said right out loud, 'oh, wonderful.' I've never read anything like it, and as is my wont I'm not going to give very much away in my book report. What is it about? A private investigator is asked to discover the truth about a man's daughter who went missing several years ago. Why wait till now to check into her disappearance? Because his wife has died and he feels that their daughter should know. And he suspects the girl's husband and his family have 'done away with her.' Mr. Wood comes to Ray Lovell because he is 'one of us' - a Gypsy.

JJ is fourteen and a member of the family that Rose Wood married into. He and Ray Lovell each have a gorjio - non Gypsy - parent. They tell the story in alternating chapters which is brilliant because the reader investigates right along with Ray Lovell, but also learns insider information from JJ. Sometimes their narratives coalesce into one story. It's just so well done.

As an outsider to this culture, I am very interested in the history and life of these people. I learned a bit in Jacqueline Winspear's An Incomplete Revenge, and Miss Read's Thrush Green. I own a book called A Field Full of Butterflies: Memories of a Romany Childhood by Rosemary Penfold which I really look forward to reading.

JJ says:
In the school library I read this book [I looked it up and apparently this isn't a real book] called Down the Lane: A Threatened Way of Life. I wondered what other people thought about us. This book was written by a gorjio for other gorjios, and even though it was aimed at school kids, it seemed stupid and simple. It talked about bender tents [Brit. a shelter made by covering a framework of bent branches with canvas or tarpaulin] and wagons, and wooden flowers and horses and mending knives. It said that Gypsies have dark skin and hair, and "particularly bright eyes." What does that mean? How can some eyes be brighter than other eyes? By being wetter?
I suppose some of the things it said were true. Some Gypsy men used to make wooden flowers, but it all seems long ago and not much to do with me or my family, or anyone I know. The book said that we're in touch with nature and know how to make old herbal remedies and stuff like that. Well, I don't know. Great-uncle's wife knew all about herbs and plants, apparently, but she's dead now. You get the impression that Gypsies are supposed to be wild and free. But there was nothing about O levels in there, for example. Apparently, Gypsies don't do exams. They don't become doctors.
The Invisible Ones is set in the mid-1980s. The colorful horse-drawn caravans are long gone, and the cover of this book is more the reality. Trailers that can be pulled behind a car or truck are the homes of modern times. There are fewer and fewer places in Britain where they can live. Land has been paved over or consolidated. I found myself thinking how life has likely changed even more in the decades since. This book doesn't romanticize the life. There is mention of women being little more than slaves, living with abuse and few options for escape. The elders worry about assimilation and losing the purity of the blood. There is superstition, and lack of good health practices. Yet through the eyes of JJ, we see that there is acceptance of how things are.

The story unfolds in such a way that I realized I was literally holding my breath a bit as I read. I couldn't imagine what was going to happen next. This isn't a thriller, but it is thrilling in a quiet, pensive way. Ray Lovell is a dear, gentle fellow who is reeling from his wife's request for a divorce. His father gave up the traveling life and became a postman. Though he doesn't know much about the life, he is trusted by the Gypsies. In his sleuthing, he has access which a gorjio would never have.

I really, really loved this book. If I worked in a bookstore or library, I would be trying to convince everyone who came in to read it.

You may visit the author's website.

16 comments:

  1. I liked this one as well. Glad it was a winner for you as well.

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  2. Hello Nan, this book review of yours fits so well with what I read recently in my weekly paper, a long feature about Roma and a museum (set up by themselves) about their culture and history in Brno. You can read about the museum on their website, also in English:
    http://www.rommuz.cz/index.php?lang=en
    If this book is available on kindle, I may download it.

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    1. Thank you so much for directing me to the museum site!! Wonderful, wonderful. I love the crafts and the paintings.
      It is possible the book would be in your library.

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  3. I've read a bunch of good reviews of this book and it's been on my list. So glad it worked so well for you. I'll get to it at some point - perhaps this summer.

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    1. Wow, and I hadn't read anything much at all. Just as glad I didn't. It was such a pleasure in its unfolding.

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  4. I am SO glad you liked it, Nan. It is an unusual book in several ways, but Penney manages the timing and the characters with such skill!

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    1. I was truly in another world as I read along. I just loved it.

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  5. A wonderful feeling at the end of the book, isn't it, Nan? This is a compelling review and I appreciated the link to Penney's website. Thanks for the good review. Another book for me to consider.

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    1. I can't praise it highly enough. I could have noted so many features, but as I said, I wanted people to have the joy of discovery as I did.

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  6. You convinced me that I need to read it!!!

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  7. Off to add it to my Goodreads queue. Thank you!

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  8. I've only just recently heard about Stef Penney, although now I can't remember where. But I do remember reading something about this book and how wonderful it is. Your review (and email) have convinced me to read it ASAP! Now to decide which format--print or audio. Off to see what the library has available. Thanks, Nan!

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    1. There is a blurb on the back from an author you like - Tana French.
      Stef Penney also wrote The Tenderness of Wolves, set in a different time and place which I want to read.

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