The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab is a fantasy novel with historical fiction elements first published in 2020. It currently has an average rating of 4.24 stars on Goodreads, and I have rated it 2 stars.
France, 1714, a desperate girl makes a bargain to live forever but is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she ever meets; this is the start of Addie LaRue’s life. It plays out across centuries and continents, within the history pages and in art as she leaves her mark in a world destined to forget her. However, her existence changes some three hundred years later when a young man, in a rundown bookstore, remembers her name.
“Because time is cruel to all, and crueller still to artists. Because visions weakens, and voices wither, and talent fades…. Because happiness is brief, and history is lasting, and in the end… everyone wants to be remembered”
It’s such a shame I just didn’t get into this at any point, and I really wanted to love it.
The problem is, I’ve heard that a lot of people connected with the characters and their stories, and I didn’t have that experience. I really liked Addie to begin with, she was stubborn, wilful, curious and perhaps selfish (but this might not be the right word for her), and she was a delight to read. I loved skipping back in time with her and learning about her adventures and how she had experienced the world, and if Schwab ever releases a book containing just her story before she meets Henry I will swipe it up – it was the story I fell in love with, and unfortunately for me that’s not the story we got.
However, despite my love for Addie I’m surprised how morally righteous Schwab tried to keep her. Addie does things we don’t usually consider acceptable to survive: she steals, she lies and she almost outright stalks potential romantic interests, and then has sex with them under dubious consenting circumstances (I’m not suggesting she would have sex with someone who said no, but she also has sex with people she knows can’t remember her and this undoubtedly creates a power imbalance in some circumstances). All of this makes her quite a morally grey character in my eyes, she’s in no way bad, she’s just doing what she has to to make it through life, but those are still bad. I wish Schwab had explored this more, looked into how she wasn’t all good and that was okay, and maybe we got this at the end with knowing how she was intending to almost outright abuse and torture Luc, but even this was framed as a heroic act to save Henry; and I think this aspect of her was underused, as we could have seen an amazing descent into villainy. I very much understand why not, as it’s not hard to read past the metaphors and symbolisms in this book regarding mental health, and I personally see Luc as an embodiment of some unnamed mental illness, so Addie’s victory against this in remaining ‘good’ or ‘human’ is admirable, but I don’t this very fitting to who her character is.
I have very conflicting feelings about Henry, our other protagonist. As someone whose suffered from bad depressive episodes, and has also been suicidal a couple of times in the last five years, I understood how he felt and emphasised with him to large degrees. However, I also found him to be insufferable. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m at a point in my recovery where I find it hard to read characters who don’t want to get better, or if I just didn’t vibe with his personality, but I found him boring and needy and I didn’t understand what Addie saw in him.
However, I did like the fact he wasn’t better immediately, and his recovery wasn’t instantaneous which can be a problem sometimes with a book covering mental health issues. Yet, at times it did feel like his recovery was tied too closely with his romantic relationship – which is not a very healthy way to recover – it’s a nit-pick rather than a true problem as Schwab doesn’t appear to advocate for this kind of recovery.
As I wasn’t enamoured with the protagonists, I didn’t love the main romance in this. Which is a shame, as it took up a lot of the book. I didn’t really get them together, it felt like they were together just because Henry could remember Addie, and if I were Addie that would probably be enough for me too, but for the reader it isn’t, and I don’t understand how their relationship was sustained. It felt like a relationship of convenience to me rather than a couple that meant something.
I want to make this very clear: I did not advocate for Addie and The Luc’s relationship; but do I understand why they are drawn to each other? Yes. And was I looking forward to their interactions after the drear fest that was Henry and Addie? Oh my god, yes. Luc and Addie are not a good couple, and they’re certainly not one that people should attempt to emulate, but their relationship was interesting and their first interactions were fun and full of pettiness. As the book goes on the abusive, manipulative side of their relationship becomes clearer and makes it impossible to want them to end up together, however, I am not mad that we got their interactions sprinkled in through retellings of their anniversary and reunions, because the book sorely needed something interesting to happen.
Whilst this is very much a character driven story, and therefore we can be kinder to it for it’s lack of plot. The lack of plot here though is so dazzling, I can’t excuse it away. Nothing really happens in this book, and I think that would be okay if I had fallen for the romance, but I clearly didn’t
Something worth mentioning about this, and something I’m incredibly disappointed in is how white this book is. Everyone, bar a few minor side characters, is white, which is not necessarily a crime (sometimes this happens in novels and is only concerning when it becomes a pattern with the author), but this paired with the fact Addie, an immortal who could travel anywhere, only mentions living in Western, first world countries is at the very least concerning. It becomes even weirder once you consider Addie makes no mention of her impact in any major historical events regarding equality that she would have lived through – and whilst she briefly mentions the French Revolution, this only to highlight the theatrical violence of the working people – but she never talks about the civil unrest of the 1960s America or Stonewall, both events she was in America for and therefore must have lived through. I’m not sure if this was an incredibly bad oversight by Schwab, or if she truly didn’t think it mattered, but it’s a weird element of Addie’s life and character and makes me think even more that she should have taken on some kind of villainous role.
One last note, one of the main positives of this book is Schwab’s writing, you can really see how she’s grown as a writer throughout her career and this may delivery some of her best examples of prose yet. It’s beautiful, and does a great job of of distracting you from the fact that often very little is going on.
To conclude, a very disappointing read. I honestly expect more from Schwab, and she could have delivered because there are great elements to this book that are so underused, or ignored entirely. I think in the end, this was just the wrong book for me, too many aspects of it rubbed me the wrong way or went in the opposite direction to my tastes. I don’t think it’s critically bad by any means, just not to my taste, but I certainly would say that this isn’t her best work.