The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
October 6, 2020
This is by far the best Schwab book I’ve read, and yet I’ve still come away from the experience in much the same way I’ve come away from reading all her other books, which is to say: I think that, on a technical level, this is an absolutely brilliant book and I can’t fathom giving it less than five stars, but I still have several criticisms. And I just know there’s going to be so, so many effusive and glowing five-star reviews of this book (they’re coming out already), which are well-deserved, but I’d still like to discuss some of the issues I had.
My experience of Schwab’s work can be summarized thusly: incredible concept, …unusual execution. Not bad, mind you, just…so anathema to what I might have gone for that it becomes a sort of glaring omission. Personal taste, mind you.
So, okay, enough waffling, a little about the book: everyone already knows this is about a French girl who makes a deal with the devil to live forever, only he curses her to be forgotten by everyone she meets, except for him. One day in present-day New York City, she meets a young man who remembers her. And we go from there.
The story is told in alternating timelines: we begin in New York City and flit back to 18th-century France, where were are slowly introduced to Addie’s humdrum existence. We continue in this manner: as Addie’s relationship with Henry – the boy who remembers her – unfolds in the present, we witness the past 300 years of her life, as she comes to fall in love with the creature who cursed her in the first place. But we are also privy to Addie’s indomitable will, as she refuses to give in to darkness and despair, as she does her best to find the little joys in life, and as she struggles to find ways to carve her mark in history.
On a technical level, Schwab has outdone herself here. From the moment I began reading, I knew I was in love; Schwab’s prose has always had a sort of effortless feel, a kind of lilting cadence that lulls you into the pages, but she’s leveled up here; the writing is absolutely gorgeous, dense and rich and evocative without becoming heavy or purple, and still maintaining that effortless quality that makes all of Schwab’s books so compulsively readable. There’s such a distinct elegance to the way Schwab crafts her tales; The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue certainly feels like a modern classic in the making.
The toxic relationship between Addie and Luc – this is the name she has given the primordial creature who has given her immortal life – is one of the best aspects of the book. All of Addie and Luc’s scenes together are electric. Their relationship is almost parasitic, and yet it makes perfect sense – Luc is all Addie has, the only constant in her life, and it is almost as though she has no choice but to come to feel some sort of attachment to him, even if it is not precisely love. This is the villain romance of my dreams, and nearly all of their scenes together had me on the edge of my seat.
The crux of my criticisms revolve around Henry, the young man who remembers Addie. Henry is not only given a POV, but he is given an entire section of Addie’s story, a whole book part devoted entirely to him. The problem with Henry is that the narrative desperately wants you to care about him almost as much as you care about Addie, but he is just so bland and generic. He seemed less like a character and more like a concept. He’s this generic white dude who’s unhappy and doesn’t have a great relationship with his family but he has friends and a good job and a nice apartment, and I know that sounds so uncharitable and cold, but listen: of course I fully believe that even conventionally attractive upper middle-class white dudes have every right to be unhappy, and that they can succumb to depression, but must I read about such basic white dudes in my fiction? Henry’s part of the book was the only part where I felt my reading slowing down because I was so uninterested.
I’m sure there’s a deliberate point to be made about how ordinary Henry’s unhappiness is, but if it were up to me, I would have slashed his story to make more room for Addie’s, which brings us to my other point of contention: I wanted to see more of Addie’s 300 years. I was told that her life spanned continents, but I only saw Western Europe and the United States. There’s a brief mention that she went to Istanbul; I would have loved to see that! There’s also a chapter that hints at Addie’s activities as a spy for the Allied powers during WWII, and how would that have worked! I wanted more of that rather than pages and pages about Henry complaining about not being good enough for his parents or whatever.
I will say, however, that the way Henry’s arc concluded, and the way it neatly dovetailed with Addie’s, was extremely clever, and brought the book to a lovely close that made sense, narratively, for Addie, Henry, and Luc, and left the way open for future shenanigans, which is exactly how I prefer my books to end.
Thematically, this is a powerful book. It’s about people’s desire to be remembered. It’s about how one can leave a mark on the world. It’s about finding joy and wonder in all the little new discoveries you make in life. It’s about joy overpowering despair.
“And there in the dark, he asks if it was really worth it.
Were the instants of joy worth the stretches of sorrow?”
Were the moments of beauty worth the years of pain?
And she turns her head, and looks at him, and says, ‘Always.'”
It feels like a love letter to life itself, a celebration of all the tiny wonders that make life worth living. And oh, does this book leave a mark. In a testament to the indomitable will of its heroine (and its author), The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue feels like the kind of book that will never be forgotten, that will be talked about for years to come, and will carve out a mark for itself within its genre’s literary canon.