What would you exchange for immortality? Family, friends, home? In THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE by V.E. Schwab, twenty-three-year-old Adeline (Addie) LaRue does not consciously exchange these things for immortality, but desiring autonomy, she inadvertently makes a deal with the devil – exchanging her soul (when she’s done with it) for a life free of the restrictions placed on women in the early part of the eighteenth century. In a small village in the French countryside in the year 1714, Adeline lives as an only child with her mother and father. Her father has indulged her whimsy far longer than most girls her age and by the age of twenty-three, she is still unmarried when her parents bequeath her to a widower with children. Desperate to escape what she sees as a life of servitude, Adeline runs away the night before her wedding and in the forest, encounters a dark force, Luc, who allows her to exchange her soul for the life she desires. But freedom is never free, and Adeline soon discovers that the cost of immortality is a life of loneliness. No one will ever remember her – even five minutes after meeting her, if she walks out of a room and re-enters, it will be as if she had never been there. She will never know the intimacy of a lover or friend with whom she shares a history. For three hundred years, Addie traverses continents, passing through history virtually unknown. Until Henry.
In New York in the year 2014, Addie walks into a bookstore and walks out with a book – it’s a survival tactic that has served her for three hundred years – if no one remembers you, and you don’t have a home or a way to make a living, stealing eventually becomes essential. The second time she comes to the bookstore, Henry, a clerk at the store, remembers her, remembers her as the girl who stole a book from him the day before. Addie is astounded. He remembers her. And thus begins their love affair.
Relationships are complicated, but especially for Addie LaRue. Over the course of three hundred years, her relationship with Luc vacillates between fear, hate, and a sort of unhealthy dependence that could easily be confused for love. Never mind that Addie only sees Luc when he deigns to grace her with his presence – more often to goad her into surrendering her soul – but as time goes on, it sometimes resembles courtship. In this fiction, Schwab has perfectly encapsulated the tactics of an abusive partner. Henry, a young man with a sad history of his own, is a tender and attentive lover, and in him, Addie finds the security and intimacy she traded for her independence that dark night in the forest centuries before.
Schwab’s premise is clever, her main characters (Addie, Henry, and Luc) are compelling and nuanced, and the ending, not always the case with a sweeping 400-page fantasy, is true to her characters. Although, I must admit that fantasy is not my preference, I found THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE to be an intriguing read. I cared about Addie and Henry and I wanted things to end well for them, and I wanted Luc to get his due. Schwab’s writing is inclusive – there are POC and LGBTQ characters and relationships – and stylistically, she makes some interesting choices.
One of the things I struggled with was the pacing; at times, the narrative dragged. And, because Addie never enjoys real intimacy in most of her relationships, some of the characters lacked depth; they read like character sketches and weren’t fully formed within the pages of the story. I would have liked to see more of Addie in the key historical moments the author only touches on – the French Revolution and World War II for instance. Instead of focusing so entirely on Addie’s love life, a plot that wends her through America’s turbulent 60’s or the Velvet Revolution or any number of culturally significant moments in history would have been more interesting to me.
THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE was released in October of 2020 to mostly stellar reviews and despite my reservations, I would recommend it for fans of LIFE AFTER LIFE and THE TIME TRAVELERS WIFE.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.