Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: VE Schwab
Rating: 4/5 stars
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.
Let me begin by saying VE Schwab is one of my favorite authors, the only author I’ve met in person, and probably the author of the most books on my bookshelf. I love how she refuses to shy away from the dark and messy parts of humans and stories, especially in Vicious/Vengeful, the ADSOM series, and The Monsters of Verity. I can see how much V’s writing has improved with each book she publishes, and since this story was her most personal and her brainchild for over a decade, I was incredibly excited to read perhaps the best book she’s published. Everyone I knew who had ARCs was raving about how this book was life-changing.
Maybe my expectations were a little too high.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, but I personally would not call it V’s best. I guess my point here is if you have some of the same annoyances I’m about to describe, don’t give up on her books because you’ll probably find another series or book that speaks to you more!
Addie and I got off to a rough start. I’ve grown used to Schwab’s writing style, which is highly stylistic, full of vivid imagery, dotted with purposeful repetition, and punctuated with abrupt interjections that interrupt the dreamlike quality of the prose to great dramatic effect.
And while this style usually works well for her novels, I felt like this book took a good 100+ pages for the drama of the story to catch up to the drama of the writing style. I felt like the prose was needlessly dramatic as it described Addie’s existence as a twenty-something in modern day New York, a decidedly un-dreamlike setting. The writing is the kind that makes you catch your breath, but in large doses it really does feel like you’re gasping. Either the writing style was reigned in or I got used to it, but by the second half of the book I didn’t notice it as much. It probably helped that the fantastical and suspenseful elements of the plot were in full force by then, justifying the highly stylistic prose.
My other annoyance with this book is how Very White it was considering the premise. This book did have queer representation and I appreciated that. Considering that Addie is a self-proclaimed traveler who has had 200+ years to explore the world, though, I was disappointed that the only mention of a non-European culture was passing mention of her love of Moroccan food. If Addie wasn’t a wanderer and the devil she bargained with was a spirit or creature specifically from Western European folklore, I wouldn’t be so annoyed since global cultures would be outside the scope of the story. However, neither of these was the case.
Addie speaks 9 languages, almost all of them from Western Europe, and among them German and Swiss. For those who don’t know, Switzerland’s four national languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansh, and while Swiss German is distinct from German, it is a dialect and not its own language. Why couldn’t this German dialect have been replaced with Polish, or Turkish, or Chinese? Perhaps China was too far for Addie to travel in the 1800s, but surely she could have made her way to Eastern Europe? This is a mild spoiler, so feel free to skip until the bold sentence if you’d like to avoid it: At one point, the “devil” Luc teleports Addie from her home in France to Italy in order to surround her with the unfamiliar and break her. Again, why couldn’t Luc have taken her out of Western Europe if the goal was to take her somewhere unfamiliar? Do ancient shadowy chaos gods not have jurisdiction outside of Western Europe and America? These were such easy ways to include more cultures in this book without changing the spirit of the story, and V chose not to take them.
I’ve spent a long time on what I found disappointing in this book, so I will also spend a long time on what I loved about it. I thought the premise of being forgotten in exchange for living forever was really interesting, and I loved that even though we knew everyone Addie interacted with would forget her once they looked away, we still ached and hoped for it not to be true. There were so many small heartbreaks as yet another character would inevitably forget Addie and she’d be forced to move on. Still, Addie has so many friendships, relationships, and meaningful experiences despite not having days or years to get to know other people.
One really cool aspect of this book is that it is told in isolated incidents over time, and even though the timeline is highly nonlinear, you don’t need to stretch your brain to piece things together. I thought the way the chapters were organized was really well done, because it heightened the suspense and developed the atmosphere in a nuanced and layered way as stories from different times dovetailed together.
I also really loved Addie’s evolving relationship with Luc. She makes a naive deal for freedom, and he does his best to break her and get her to surrender, but Addie is clever and defiant. She endures horrific situations, and each time Luc comes back to ask her if she’s given up, she refuses. Despite her refusal to surrender, Luc is the only one who remembers her over time and knows what she is going through. At the same time, Addie is one of the few constants in Luc’s existence…can your enemy become your friend and confidante? Can you love your enemy or are you just seeking false comfort? One thing that surprised me is that this isn’t really a love story between a French girl and a devil even though it’s marketed that way, so just a heads up if that’s what you’re expecting. It’s more of a complicated rivalry where two foes are circling each other and you don’t know if they’re about to dance together or stab one another. Theirs is a particular form of toxic relationship, and I like that the abuse was never romanticized.
I thought it was really cool to see how Addie manages to find ways to leave her mark on the world, even if it is only indirectly. The concepts of ideas being bigger than people and art transcending memory were beautiful. I’m excited to see the finished copy of this book so that I can see the sketches that were only described in text in the eARC.
I thought this book had a fantastic and fitting ending. If the ending hadn’t been so satisfying, I probably would have knocked off another star in my rating. I’m not talking about the meta stuff towards the end of the book, I can’t decide if that part was fitting or too gimmicky. The last few pages though, those were truly incredible.
A free eARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.