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

March 20, 2023

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a poignant fantasy novel by V.E. Schwab.  It begins in 1714 in a French village, where Adeline "Addie" LaRue, the daughter of a woodcarver, is desperate to avoid an arranged marriage to a man she doesn't love.  An older woman who has been a mentor to Addie, and who still believes in the old gods, warns her not to pray to the gods who appear after dark.  Addie runs away from her wedding and into the woods, but in her desperation she doesn't realize that the sun has gone down, and she ends up making a horrible mistake.  She meets with a devil-like figure named Luc, who, of course, is one of the dark gods she had been warned about, and makes a Faustian bargain with him: she will have her freedom, along with eternal life and youth, and he will have her soul when she doesn't want it any more.

Soon Addie realizes Luc has played a cruel trick on her, and extracted a terrible price: she has her freedom and eternal life, but no one will remember her.  When she returns to her house, she realizes with horror that her parents no longer remember her, and they think they never had a child.  Her best friend also doesn't recognize her, but takes pity on her because she thinks Addie is a beggar seeking shelter for the night.  But then she goes to answer the door, and after that brief absence Addie's friend doesn't remember the woman she took pity on, and chases her from the house.

Addie also finds that she cannot make her mark in the world in any way.  If she starts to write, the letters erase themselves.  She cannot draw, either, and she had loved to draw before she made her bargain.  If she has to fight to defend herself, which she does several times, she cannot wound her attacker because the wounds close up right away.  (But then she also has the advantage that, if she is wounded, her wounds heal immediately.)  She cannot even say her own name, except when Luc is present.

Because of the curse on Addie, she can never have a job, or even a home of her own.  After many years, though, she learns how to turn her situation to her advantage.  She has seven freckles, which look like a constellation, on her face, and this pattern inspires several artists over the years.  They don't remember her, but they remember the idea of her, and the pattern on her face, so she inspires their art without their being aware of her as a person.

Then, in 2014, three hundred years after Addie's bargain, everything changes.  She walks into a bookstore and steals a book (a copy of The Odyssey in Greek--in three hundred years she has learned many languages and traveled to many places).  Addie has learned to steal in order to survive.  She doesn't like it, but she feels she has no choice because she can't get a job, when no one can remember her.  The next day she comes back to return the book, and the bookseller, a young man named Henry Strauss, remembers her.

Addie doesn't know how this can be, of course, and she is determined to find out why Henry remembers her.  She also finds that she can say her name in his presence, which she had not been able to do with anyone else besides Luc.  She still cannot write, but she finds a way around it when she lets Henry write, with her guiding his fingers.  Addie and Henry find themselves drawn to each other.  And then she learns the reason why Henry can remember her.  (I do not consider this a spoiler, because it's revealed well before the end of the novel.)  It turns out Henry has also made a bargain with Luc.

Henry had been a very lonely young man, unappreciated by his family and unable to maintain a relationship for very long.  He is heartbroken after his girlfriend turns down his marriage proposal.  In desperation, he attempts suicide, only to be rescued by Luc, with whom he makes a bargain: to be loved by everyone around him.  But that is not the full extent of Henry's bargain, and to say more really would be a spoiler.  I will only say that Addie finds out what the true nature of Henry's bargain is, and she works to save his life.  Can Addie and Henry find happiness together?  Or will they, or at least one of them, have to pay the price for their bargains with the devil?

Most of the novel takes place in 2014 and slightly earlier and follows not only Addie's story but Henry's life before he made his bargain.  I found this to be the weakest part of the novel, with Schwab going into many details about Henry's circle of friends and their sexual adventures and drug use.  I did like Henry's character and felt for him in his unsuccessful attempts to find love, only to be rejected.  I loved his bookstore, with an ancient cat named Book.  And I liked his friend Bea, an art historian writing her dissertation on the art works inspired by Addie.  I just thought Schwab went into too much detail about their lives instead of focusing on Addie.  This did not, however, detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.  I think it's a wonderful book, but perhaps these scenes could have been trimmed a little.

The 2014 story is interspersed with brief chapters about Addie's life through the ages, as she experiences the French Revolution, both World Wars (including being imprisoned in a Nazi jail cell), and many other events.  Every year on the anniversary of her bargain at first, and then less frequently later on, she encounters Luc, who tries to convince her to give up her life and come with him.  Luc holds a certain attraction for Addie, even during her time with Henry, but she also sees his cruelty, and how manipulative he is.  Actually, I would have liked to have seen more of Addie's adventures over the years.  There are many that are hinted at, which we don't actually see in the book.

As I said, I will not give away the ending, but I loved it.  All I will say is that Addie turns the tables on Luc in a very satisfactory way, but I won't say what happens.  Addie is not always an admirable character, but I don't think she is supposed to be.  She is an ordinary woman caught, by her own mistake, in a horrible situation.  Addie steals and she sleeps with many men (and some women) over the years, but she does it to survive since she doesn't see any other way.  It seems, at least to me, that Addie's inability to be remembered or to make a mark can be read as a metaphor for many women's lack of power through the years.  Addie's writing is erased as soon as she begins it, and I can see that as a symbol of how women have been "erased" from history.  I don't know if that's what Schwab's intent is, or if I'm reading too much into it.  If seen that way, though, this book is a perfect read for Women's History Month.

Finally, I would like to mention the exquisite nature of the writing.  Schwab writes in a very leisurely style, which reads almost like poetry.  Many of her paragraphs contain only one line, but she says a lot in one line.  This is not a fast read, but it is beautiful.  Take your time, and enjoy it.  I highly recommend this book.  Even if you don't usually like fantasy, it's an absorbing story, beautifully written.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is available on audiobook and ebook via OverDrive.

V.E. Schwab will be coming to Ann Arbor on April 14 as part of the launch of the paperback edition of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.