The Invisible Ones
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Small-time private investigator Ray Lovell veers between paralysis and delirium in a hospital bed. But before the accident that landed him there, he'd been hired to find Rose Janko, the wife of a charismatic son of a traveling Gypsy family, who went missing seven years earlier. Half Romany himself, Ray is well aware that he's been chosen more for his blood than his investigative skills. Still, he's surprised by the intense hostility he encounters from the Jankos, who haven't had an easy past. Touched by tragedy, they're either cursed or hiding a terrible secret-whose discovery Ray can't help suspecting is connected to Rose's disappearance. . . .
Stef Penney was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her debut novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, was an international bestseller and received the prestigious Costa Award. She is also a screenwriter.
- The author chose to tell this story with two narrators, each of whom offers a different view into Romany culture. Would the story have been stronger or weaker with just one narrator? Do the narrators’ positions affect your perspective on the culture?
- Why do you think the author chose JJ to illustrate Romany culture? How would the story have been influenced by a different narrator Tene or Sandra, for example? What effect does JJ’s voice have on the story?
- JJ reflects on a disastrous study date with a classmate at the end of chapter 16, saying that he and Stella are “like trains on tracks that run more or less parallel but will never meet. I can’t go on her tracks, and she can’t go on mine.” In what ways is Romany culture different from the outside world? In what ways is it the same?
- Romany face a significant amount of prejudice and stereotyping. What are some examples in the novel? What impact does this have on the characters? How are Romany themselves prejudiced against outsiders? How does Ray Lovell walk the line between his two cultures?
- Ray Lovell’s viewpoint moves between his past and his present. How does solving the mystery ’alongside’ him enhance your reading experience?
- “Pure blood” is a significant concern through this novel. How does pure blood shape the “one of us” mentality? How has the desire for pure blood affected the Janko family? Are there other cultures or instances in history where “pure blood” has been a valuable trait?
- The Jankos visit the healing bathhouses at Lourdes in an attempt to cure Christo’s mysterious disease, through prayer and holy water. JJ says that his family is not religious, though we learn that their culture is rich in folklore. How does their belief in the healing power of Lourdes align with their folkloric traditions? Are there ways in which it conflicts?
- Luck is a prevalent theme in the novel. Are the Jankos lucky or unlucky? Explain with specific instances that the Jankos attribute to luck.
- The Invisible Ones is set in the 1980s. Why do you think the author chose this time period? In what ways does it affect your reading experience?
- Sandra and Lulu have very different reactions to Ray’s revelation about Ivo. Sandra is arguably much closer to Ivo, but she responds much more calmly to the news. Were you surprised by this? Why do you think the two reacted so differently?