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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue


The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

Every year, there is at least one book that I am so eager to read that I often catch myself preordering it twice, setting up Google alerts for news about it, and rapidly refreshing the author’s social media in search of any new snippets I can find. In 2020, that book is THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LaRUE. Best known for her Shades of Magic and Villains series, V.E. Schwab is beloved by teen and adult fans alike for her ability to unite magic and darkness in fresh and original ways, and her latest is no different.

Born in 17th-century France, Adeline LaRue is a woman at odds with her time. Unlike the rest of the women in her small village of Villon-sur-Sarthe, Adeline dreams of independence, not marriage, and loves accompanying her father to the city to sell his woodworking wares, rather than staying home to do chores and moon over boys she has known since birth. As the years draw on, her once-precocious nature becomes irritating to her family, and when a local father loses his wife to childbirth, she is offered up as his bride. Having befriended a local loner woman who continues to commune with the old gods, Adeline becomes obsessed with leaving offerings for the gods who might come to save her. In a moment of desperation, however, she forgets the cardinal rule: Never pray to the gods who answer after dark. Of course, it is one of these gods who hears her call.

Three hundred years later, Adeline --- now Addie --- is still alive, haunting the streets of New York City, bound by a Faustian curse. She will live forever, never running out of time to grasp her independence or experience the world, but never belonging to anyone, either. It sounds simple enough at first blush, but not belonging to someone goes farther than escaping marriage or friendships. Addie cannot be remembered by anyone, leave a mark on the world or create anything of her own. Though she has affairs with gorgeous men and women alike, they all forget her by morning, even when she has not left their bed.

"As viscerally stunning as it is emotionally daunting, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LaRUE is V.E. Schwab at her absolute finest, and I feel as though I cannot say enough about this gorgeous heartache of a book."

Alternating between France, 1714, and New York City, 2014, Schwab highlights a lifetime of dualities: independence and alienation, freedom and restraint, knowledge and fear. In the early days of her curse, Addie struggles with securing food, housing and clothing for herself, especially as a woman living alone off the grid. Three hundred years later, she has learned sleight of hand and how to live as a hidden homeless person, but she still longs for one real connection, someone who can remember her for more than a night, a companion who can repeat her own name back to her. Through it all, she grapples with her attraction and contempt for the devil who cursed her, Luc, a shadowy figure of a man crafted from her dreams. The two meet once a year, roughly, and each time Luc teases her with dangerous power plays, heady seductions, and the constant, threatening reminder that one day he will take her soul when she is done with it.

Accustomed to her life of theft and sneakiness, Addie is thrilled when she discovers a hidden bookstore in the crooked streets of New York. Poised to pilfer a book, she is shocked when the manager, Henry, chases her into the street to demand payment. Unlike everyone else she has ever stolen from, he not only remembered seeing her leave with the book, but caught her in her practiced act. Though she is able to make a quick escape, when she returns to exchange the book the next day, Henry remembers her, and her life is flipped upside down.

Schwab tracks Addie and Henry’s friendship with the compassion of a romance writer, offering a brief bit of light and levity to a complicated and devastating plot. But after a life filled with yearning, Addie cannot help but question her changed luck...and soon learns there’s a dark, messy reason that Henry can remember her. He, too, is hiding a cursed secret.

With Addie torn between the promise of a new chance at life and her hopeless, toxic connection to the demon who cursed her, the novel takes on a new urgency, with decades, centuries of yearning galvanizing into action and revolution. As viscerally stunning as it is emotionally daunting, this is V.E. Schwab at her absolute finest, and I feel as though I cannot say enough about this gorgeous heartache of a book. The mechanics of the worldbuilding are so clever, so fully conceptualized that you often will find yourself wondering How did she do that? Addie is an unforgettable, completely unique character, and I feel certain that readers of all ages and walks of life will find something relatable within her.

Even in her most wild and fantastical moments, Schwab infuses Addie with a very human and raw sense of yearning and desire, not only for love and remembrance, but for art, beauty, knowledge and so much more. On top of that, she includes queer and POC representation, never once using sexual, cultural or racial identity as a plot twist or an act of tokenism. Every last one of her characters is fully realized and explored, and each of them leaps off the page, regardless of the time period.

In addition to its magnificent cast of characters, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LaRUE carries a lot of emotional weight. The idea of immortality is alluring at first, but Schwab is careful to highlight its boundaries and dangers, and the dreadful feelings that come with it. In her writing of Henry, she never once holds back when describing his battle with depression, and the way that his lifelong feeling of emptiness is mirrored in Addie’s life of fullness is simply poetic. But their shared feelings of loneliness come with a surprising dark side, too, as displayed by their willingness to consort with the devil.

This, for me, was the absolute highlight of the book. Addie and Luc’s 300-year-long relationship is toxic and intoxicating, and Schwab is careful to make Luc as seductive to the reader as he clearly is to Addie. Yet she maintains a sense of tension in every scene, reminding you that he is an abuser, an owner, and not a friend or partner. Though their bond is always clearly unhealthy, it ebbs and flows, and Schwab chronicles every change with tenderness and emotional acuity that speaks volumes to her wisdom and brilliance.

Equal parts magical, romantic and inventive, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LaRUE will no doubt earn countless comparisons to books like THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and LIFE AFTER LIFE, but I feel certain that anyone who reads it will be completely blown away by its originality, breadth of emotion and absolutely unforgettable characters. Schwab has always known how to make magic and bend the bounds of our world, but here she is at her height, with her endless cleverness and beautiful writing on full display.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on October 23, 2020

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
by V.E. Schwab