It is no secret that The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is an immensely popular book right now. It was released in October of 2020, but now—eight months later—it is still selling really well. Movie rights have been sold. It’s trending on #booktok. All that good stuff, plus a gorgeous cover. Also, it’s by the same person who wrote A Darker Shade of Magic. It was only a matter of time before I read it, and then I went on vacation and had a good twelve hours in the backseat of a car. I had high expectations for Addie LaRue, and I’m happy to report that it met them.
What’s it about?
Addie LaRue was told not to pray to the gods who answer after dark, but sometimes they’re the only ones who answer. On the eve of her arranged marriage, Addie makes a desperate plea for her freedom and has her wish unexpectedly granted. But there’s a catch. By asking to remain free and untied to anyone, Addie finds herself immortal and unable to leave any kind of mark; she is immediately forgotten once out of sight, and she cannot so much as speak her name. Repeatedly over the years, Addie’s dark god comes to her to see if she has tired of her eternal purgatory and is ready to hand over her soul.
What’d I think?
V.E. Schwab is a fabulous writer. I haven’t read all her books, but the ones I have read all have interesting characters and magical systems that sit outside the norm. This is no exception. If I’d heard the synopsis of Addie LaRue without Schwab’s name attached, I would have said that there’s no way it would work as a concept, and certainly not for 442 pages. Because all of Addie’s acquaintances forget her as soon as they turn their backs, there’s not much opportunity for her to form any long-term relationships or even to interact with other people except in the most superficial ways. Usually, character relationships make or break a story for me. Addie LaRue succeeds on the strength of its titular character, and in the fascinating specification and limitations of her Faustian deal.
I suspect that the few people who dislike Addie LaRue are put off by the repetitiveness. It is, I suppose, a fair criticism; for much of her life, Addie’s existence is cyclical. In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have been boring, but Schwab excels in the little moments. Addie’s frustrations and triumphs are laid bare as she tests the boundaries of her curse and finds herself trapped… or finds a small loophole. Centuries pass, but these frustrating, often fruitless, usually heartbreaking moments both illuminate Addie as a character—she is stubborn, yes, but more than that she is clever, optimistic, unrelenting, and endlessly in love with the world and the people in it—and set the stage for the latter part of the novel. Addie lives nearly three hundred years in a limbo of memory before she meets someone who remembers her. If we, the readers, don’t live at least some of that time with her, Henry’s recognition would not have nearly the impact.
Resilience is the main takeaway from Addie LaRue, at least for me. There are two or three dramatic plot developments in the latter half of the book, but before that it is a story of a woman persisting. She longs for a life of freedom but was born in a time that did not afford that to women, so she found an escape. When that escape proves itself unlivable, she finds a way to live through it and even to carve out moments of joy. Where almost anyone else would have given up and given in—I certainly would have—Addie presses on. Even as the world forgets her and breaks her heart and forgets her again, Addie persists. She grows strong, but she never closes herself off. She looks for the wonder in the world, whether that is in traveling or seeing a piece of art or in meeting a new lover. Even when she knows her heart will break, she throws herself in wholeheartedly.