Monday, November 30, 2015

'The Invisible Ones' Book Review, by Stef Penney

Reading 'The Invinsible Ones' is like going on a long holiday. You enjoy it at first, but then you get to the middle and you're like, when is this going to end? Then, once you reach the end, you're like, why did this have to end? It was so good! 

The story is told through the perspective of two characters who take the wheel through alternate chapters. The first main character is Ray Lovell, a part-Gypsy private investigator who is hired by a Gypsy man to find his missing daughter whom her husband, Ivo and his bigoted father, Tene claim had run away six years ago after giving birth to a sickly child, Christo. The second main character is Jimmy Janko a.k.a JJ, Ivo's teenage relative who looks up to him as a father figure. It is interesting to read about these two characters who are very similar and yet different. Ray is the outsider who is partly and insider to this community. On the other hand, JJ is an insider who is conflicted about his own culture in relation to how the outside world views his world. 

I love a good mystery, which this story has. But it is more than just that. The story also explores the lives of Gypsies in England, and how they are prejudiced towards outsiders and vice versa. There is one part where Jimmy brings home a classmate, who views his family's trailer and lifestyle as a whole in a weird manner, making him almost feeling ashamed of being Gypsy. You can't help but feel sorry for Jimmy. It doesn't help that his great-uncle, Tene is always preaching about Gypsy culture, as if it is superior to everything else. So, an ardent mystery lover like me will be left feeling cheated halfway through this book. But I beg you to carry on.

Don't worry because the book is not really an in-dept study on Gypsy culture, but it does show readers how and why these people can be very private and even wary of people who are not part of their community. Because of the mutual prejudice that exists, Gypsies mostly keep to themselves. This is especially the case for the Jankos who are not part of a large travelling community but are rather living on the edge of mainstream society. 

Something else that drives the story is how the Jankos are plagued with an illness they call their 'family curse', which is a form of hereditary blood disorder passed on through mothers which has killed almost every male family member before they make it to adulthood. Only Ivo survived this following a miraculous recovery. However, his young son, Christo is now afflicted by it, much to Tene's disappointment since he is the last surviving Janko male to carry the family name. Jimmy is technically not a Janko since his last name is Smith. But the family curse is more than the blood disorder, what with Ivo's own sister, Christina having died in a road accident while she was a child. While investigating, Ray cannot help but feel sorry and intrigued that a family can be plagued with so much misfortune. 

Ray's investigation forces him to become more and more involved with the Jankos. He also slowly unearths many skeletons, both literal and figurative which Ivo and Tene would prefer to keep hidden. In the process, Ray also becomes attracted to one of the Jankos, Lulu, who has committed the ultimate Gypsy sin; like Ray's father, she had abandoned travelling and became a house Gypsy. JJ also becomes fascinated with Ray's line of work and aspires to be like him one day. 

I guessed the ending a few paragraphs before the big reveal. But then again, I am always on the lookout for big twists. It was still a big 'oh crap' moment for me. It was far darker and far more disturbing than I had anticipated, which only makes it all worth it. Definitely recommend this to mystery lovers who like a little bit of drama in their stories. 



SPOILER ALERT:

One night, Ivo goes missing after he is supposed to be tested at a hospital that is treating Christo. Because of this, JJ and his mother are forced to adopt the little boy. They then decide to abandon the travelling life and live in a proper house for Christo's health. 

Ray also eventually tracks down the missing girl, who has remarried and living happily in Wales. She also reveals that she cannot be the mother of Christo since she is barren, which makes sense considering the fact that the sickness is passed down through mothers. Christo's mother has to be a Janko.

Nothing is proven, but it is hinted that that the skeletons found belong to the real Ivo, who never made it passed puberty and actually died of the disease. The person pretending to be Ivo all along was Christina, his long-presumed dead sister. Tene probably did this to save the family line. He actually let his missing daughter-in-law run away, probably impregnated his own son (daughter, whatever), all to make sure his grandson was pure blooded. 

Twisted, isn't it? Hope you will enjoy this book!