Today I’m very excited to be sharing my review for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab.
Huge thanks to Titan for sending me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
This book has trigger warnings for death, starvation, payment for sexual acts, recreational and self-mediating drug use, emotional manipulation, attempted suicide, depression, and violence.
It’s no secret that The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is my most anticipated release of 2020.
I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since Victoria mentioned it at YALC years ago. The way she described it immediately captured my attention.
A girl who makes a deal with the devil to live forever but is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets? What a premise. What an idea.
And Victoria has taken that idea and shaped it into a masterpiece.
The first mark she left upon the world, long before she knew the truth, that ideas are so much wilder than memories, that they long and look for ways of taking root.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue follows Adeline, ‘Addie’, Larue, born in 17th century France, who when faced with the prospect of marriage, prays to the Old Gods to help her find a way out.
I do not want to belong to anyone but myself. I want to be free. Free to live, and to find my own way, to love, or to be alone, but at least it is my choice, and I am so tired of not having choices, so scared of the years rushing past beneath my feet.
The Old Gods don’t answer, but the Darkness does and it takes the form of a man who offers her a deal. Time and freedom in exchange for her soul. Addie renegotiates the deal, saying “you can have my soul when I don’t want it any more” and the Darkness accepts.
It’s only afterwards that Addie comes to realise the high price she paid. She doesn’t age and doesn’t ail, but no-one remembers her.
She can leave a room and when she re-enters everyone has forgotten her. She can meet with someone every day for a month, and although she gets to know them, they don’t get to know her because every day they meet her for the first time.
Until 300 years later, one person says “I remember you.”
The power of language
Never have three words held more power in a story. There’s something timeless and incredibly poignant about the moment someone remembers Addie LaRue.
“I love you” are some of the most powerful words we can say, but in this moment, for Addie, “I remember you” holds more power.
I remember you. Three hundred years. Three hundred years, and no one has said those words, no one has ever, ever remembered.
In fact, this book really showcases the power words can hold. Not only in the sense of dialogue between characters, but also in Victoria’s writing style itself.
Schwab varies her narrative style depending on the genre and type of book she’s writing, but this is definitely some of the most masterful writing she’s produced. It’s beautiful, lyrical, and it feels like so much thought, gravitas, and care have gone into every sentence.
The plot and pacing start off slowly, but if you’ve read a lot of Victoria’s books, you’ll know that quite a few of them do. She’s said in interviews that most of her books begin slowly and then expand outwards, and the same is true here.
The slow pace comes from the one timeline and single POV. But because we know from the synopsis that she’ll make a deal and then meet someone who remembers her, the anticipation for these two scenes is huge.
It spurred me through the initial chapters, despite their slow start, and when these moments came around my heart was hammering in my chest.
Even though I knew what was going to happen (from the blurb), these scenes were tense and dramatic, and I couldn’t wait to see how they would play out. It’s a testament to the quality of an author’s writing if they can tell you about specific scenes in the plot, but still make you excited to read them.
I am stronger than your god and older than your devil. I am the darkness between stars, and the roots beneath the earth. I am promise, and potential, and when it comes to playing games, I divine the rules, I set the pieces, and I choose when to play.
Once we begin to get multiple timelines and another POV, the pacing increases and as the story begins to move more fluidly between past and present it fills the gaps in Addie’s story.
Addie is a dreamer and a survivor. She dreams of seeing more of the world than her small town, Villon, and fears spending the rest of her life living there as a housewife. She knows there’s nothing wrong with this path and sees her friend Isabelle find happiness and contentment doing this, but it’s not the path for Addie.
Fear of a living and dying in the same village and the desire to see more of the world push her to make the deal. And once the deal is done she becomes a survivor as well as a dreamer.
“A dreamer,” scorns her mother. “A dreamer,” mourns her father. “A dreamer,” warns Estele.
She has to endure hardships and huge losses that would be enough to make anyone else give up. But because Addie is a survivor, she never stops. The curse means she can’t often say in one place for long (people don’t remember who she is or why she’s there so staying in one place often lands her in trouble), so she’s constantly in motion.
She learns how to lie, steal, and act in the name of survival. She begins to lose her naivety, but she doesn’t lose her inherent goodness and she never stops marvelling at the world.
For the first time in three hundred years, she draws birds, and trees, draws a garden, draws a workshop, draws a city, draws a pair of eyes. The images spill out of her, and through him, and onto the wall with a clumsy, frenzied need. And she is laughing, tears streaming down her cheeks, and he wants to wipe them away, but his hands are her hands, and she is drawing.
Unlike Addie, Henry is not a dreamer. Or, he doesn’t seem that way at first. He’s a wandering soul, struggling to find his calling in life and he feels like he’s never enough for other people.
Never a good enough friend, never a good enough partner, never a good enough brother or son. He has depressive periods, which he describes as ‘storms’ rolling in, and he doesn’t quite know what he wants to for a job or a career.
Henry is like bottled lightning, unable to sit still for long, full of nervous energy
Henry’s emotions really lift off the page and bleed into us. I found some of his scenes the most heart-breaking and I longed for him to find light in his dark moments.
As a character, I think he’ll resonate with a lot of readers because many of us don’t fully know what we want to do in life until our 20s (or sometimes later).
He always liked learning. Loved it, really. If he could have spent his whole life sitting in a lecture hall, taking notes, could have drifted from department to department, haunting different studies, soaking up language and history and art, maybe he would have felt full, happy.
Henry is 28 and still hasn’t fully decided whether he wants to return to his PhD, continue being a bookseller, or do something completely different. And that feels so real and reflective of what a lot of young people today experience.
There are so many choices and so many options, how do you narrow your life down to a single path?
When Henry meets Addie, he realises that you don’t have to. You can do so many things and be so many things, irrespective of whether you’ve lived for 300 years or not.
“If you could live somewhere with only one season,” asks Henry, “what would it be?” “Spring,” she says, “when everything is new.” “Fall,” he says, “when everything is fading.” They have both chosen seams, those ragged lines where things are neither here nor there, but balanced on the brink.
Addie reminds Henry that there’s so much beauty and wonder in the world. He sees her, still finding wonder at new things after 300 years of living, and understands that he doesn’t have to carry the burden of his family’s high standards or society’s expectations any more. He simple has to be.
I loved Addie and Henry’s relationship because they form such a strong bond. They understand each other in the way no-one else does and their scenes at their fair and in the bookstore were enchanting.
The last room is filled with stars. It is a black chamber, identical to the one before it, only this time, a thousand pinprick lights break through the obscurity, carving a Milky Way close enough to touch – a majesty of constellations.
The power of names
Victoria Schwab one again illustrates the importance of names in her stories. Adeline becomes Addie when she leaves her old life behind, signalling a new beginning and a new name to match who she truly is.
But she can never say her own name because of the curse, so she calls herself a thousand different names. Until 300 years later, someone remembers her and calls her by her real name. Addie.
“I think he wanted to erase me. To make sure I felt unseen, unheard, unreal. You don’t realize the power of a name until it’s gone.”
This really made me think about how intrinsically names are tied to our identities and how much power there is in a name. If I wasn’t able to say my own name for 300 years, would I still be the same version of myself? Would my name still hold the same meaning for me if others had known me by other names for so long?
I’m not 300 years old, so I can’t say for certain. But Addie never stops trying to say her true name. She never loses sight of one day being called Addie again. The Darkness calls her Adeline because he doesn’t truly know her, but when someone else calls her Addie and she’s able to say her own name again after centuries, it’s such a momentous scene.
“It’s A-” The sound lodges, for just a second, the stiffness of a muscle long since fallen to disuse. A rusty cog. And then – it scrapes free. “Addie.” She swallows, hard. “My name’s Addie.”
Something else that really struck me about this book is that all the main and secondary characters are queer. Addie says she’s attracted to people of any gender, Henry is bi, Bea is a lesbian, Robbie is gay, and Luc is likely pan (this is implied but not confirmed on page).
Queerness has a real presence in this story, which is wonderful. Even though it’s not the main theme of the book, it’s foregrounded in so many scenes that you couldn’t possibly ignore it.
In her recent essay on coming out, Victoria wrote:
“Your characters begin to live the way you do, unrepentant. Never reduced to their queerness, only expanded by it. It infuses them in many ways, sometimes subtle, others loud. They take up space in the world, space they deserve.”
This is how the characters in Addie feel. Unrepentant, expanded by their queerness, taking up space. They’re accepted and loved, they’ve found their people, and it made my heart swell.
I loved the way Addie is filled with layers. Layers of time and history. Layers of stories within stories. The structure of having a narrative within a narrative is incredibly clever and makes Addie seem even more real.
This story is a celebration of art and literature. It reminds us that books hold entire worlds and lives in them. Books can immortalise people and make us remember them in ways we otherwise might not have done. Addie is certainly immortalised in this novel, in more ways than one.
Addie leans into the wild gust, cheeks blushing with the cold, hair whipping around her face, and in that moment, he can see what every artist saw, what drew them to their pencils and their paint, this impossible, uncatchable girl.
This novel is filled with existential questions. It asks us, is time more important than memory? Is one worth having without the other? If history will forget us, how do we make sure our lives counted for something?
Addie is destined to be forgotten by everyone, but she doesn’t let it stop her from trying to make mark. And Victoria promotes that idea throughout the narrative, that doing something good or important is still worthwhile, even if no-one will remember you for it.
I’ve never read a book like this. A book with so much emotion and magic folded into each page. A book that’s so beautifully written that my heart physically ached in certain scenes.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to call this a masterpiece because it’s unique in so many ways and transcends the boundaries of genre fiction. I rated this book 5 stars and I will always remember Addie.
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