The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos by Margaret Mascarenhas

Irene and Lily are best friends. Lily grows up the adored child of older parents while Irene’s family life is less than ideal or stable. Trouble with boys leads the girls to be separated when Lily’s stricter parents send her to school at a convent, while Irene continues to attend the same school that both girls had attended together. Lily is forbidden to see or speak with Irene again.

When Lily’s parents intend on taking her on vacation, they make the mistake of saying that Lily can bring along whomever she chooses, and of course Lily  chooses Irene. Supposedly the girls haven’t seen each other in two years, but after their trip it will be a lot longer than that before they see each other again. After a mysterious and fateful island trip, Lily will always wonder what became of her friend the day they went out to the lake.

I so enjoyed this novel and being completely immersed in the new to me mythology of a different culture along with its accompanying mores and customs, even though sometimes I had no idea what was going on. The descriptions of the family life and and their relationships with each other along with the explorations into the personal lives of the family and seemingly unrelated characters and their contributions to and takes on the story were fascinating. Beautifully written, I savored the reading of this novel and tried to solve the mysteries of who was related to each other and how. Everyone had a reaction on what had happened to Irene and I loved discovering their thoughts and placing them in the back of my head to mull over.

There was a heady surreality blended with the barest hints of magical realism that made it hard to pin this story down, and just when I had come one conclusion a different set of possibilities were presented for consideration. Though the ending of the novel could be construed as ambiguous and as having been left up for interpretation by the author, it isn’t that straightforward as that, and ultimately every reader has to decide whether they were given enough information to know what happened to Irene, and what is true and what amounts to speculation.  Amidst all of the chaos, I was very satisfied with the conclusions I was able to draw.

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