The Invisible by Mats Wahl
Hilmer Eriksson is alone in his classroom when two of his classmates enter. Neither Henrik Malmsten nor Lars-Erik Bulterman likes Hilmer, so Hilmer is puzzled when they ignore him. Surely they would at least say nasty things to him, or go even further, since on one else is around. But they act as if he isn’t there. Hilmer’s confusion increases when class begins and his teacher announces that a detective will be visiting to talk to them about a classmate’s disappearance. Hilmer, Detective Fors announces, is missing, and does anyone have information the police will find useful? No matter how much Hilmer tries to make his presence known, he is unable to do so. And why can he not remember what happened on the day he went missing?
Detective Harald Fors has been sent to investigate Hilmer’s disappearance. The more he learns, the surer he is that Hilmer is the victim of foul play. But the people he questions have their own reasons for being less than forthcoming.
The Invisible is a prime example of the YA vs. adult conundrum. My first thought after finishing the book was, “Why is this a YA novel?” In many ways, this is your stereotypical Scandinavian mystery, in setting (on-the-brink-of-dying village; Swedish, in this case), subject matter (racism and immigration), lead detective (divorced middle age man), and in style. And while the story opens with Hilmer, Detective Fors is the character we spend the most time with, the one who uncovers what happened to Hilmer. It’s through Fors’ interviews and investigation that we view most of the events. Hilmer discovers the truth along with Fors (and the reader) as a passive character who can only observe. It is this passivity that makes me question the YA designation the most. Hilmer is not telling the story, nor is he the protagonist of the story. He is the subject of an investigation. He does not drive the story, his disappearance does. Fors’ investigation of Hilmer’s disappearance is the lens through which Wahl examines Swedish society, not Hilmer’s actions itself. While we get glimpses of Hilmer’s thoughts while he is invisible, these thoughts are mostly of bewilderment at what happened to him, not recollections or flashbacks of what actually happened.
While teens may pick up The Invisible on their own, I think it has more appeal to adult readers of Scandinavian mysteries. Like, oh, me. So I’m not sure why this was published as a YA book. Is it the movie? (Which I haven’t seen, but is apparently completely different from the book.) The length? (186 pages.) This could have easily been published as an adult book, marketed to fans of Scandinavian mysteries, perhaps fans of Henning Mankell and Faceless Killers, in particular, and maybe cross-marketed to teens and YA librarians as an Alex Award-type adult book with teen appeal.
Oh well, enough puzzling over this. I did like the book, though I probably should admit that I was predisposed to like it, but the “YA or adult?” issue rather sidetracked me. Now, to catch up on the Kurt Wallender series so I can read Mankell’s YA book when it comes out later this year. Which doesn’t sound like a mystery at all, but I’m just that kind of reader.