Book: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: VE Schwab
Published By: Titan Books
Publication Date: 6th October (oops!)
BECHDEL TEST: Pass-Addie and Sam talk about art.
Content warnings: Grief, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, attempted sexual assualt, attempted suicide, loss of a loved one, war, starvation, sex work, forced marriage, emotional abuse, mentions of cancer in the past, vomiting, mind control, drugging without consent
Thank you to Netgalley UK and Titan Books for allowing me to read this book early, it in no way affected my opinion of this book.
I am in no way exaggerating when I say that this was my most anticipated book of this year. I’ve been excited for this book for a long time now, since I first heard VE Schwab talk about it and have eagerly snapped up every little snippet that she’s posted on Instagram since. So it’s safe to say that my expectations for this one were super high, and I’m thankful that they were met and then some. It didn’t meet the heights of A Darker Shade of Magic, Vengeful and A Conjuring of Light, but it’s definitely up there with my favourite Schwab books. It’s going to be a hard one to review without going into spoilers, but I’ll give it my best! Here is a short synopsis of the book:
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever-and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore, and he remembers her name.
In the vein of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Life After Life, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab’s #1 New York Times Bestselling Author genre-defying tour de force.
I feel like I have to start off with the writing on this one, because it’s definitely the most noticeable thing about this book. It’s quite different to the way Schwab writes in any of her other books, she definitely leans into the description more here but it works so well. I’m not usually one for description but the writing in this book is SO BEAUTIFUL. You know when you read a book and you’re just in absolute awe and wish you could write something as gorgeous as that? Yeah, that’s the writing in this book for me.
I will admit, it is a very slow paced book, which is not usually what I like, but this is the kind of story where a fast pace just wouldn’t have worked. By it’s very nature, the story is a slow unspooling of hundreds of years of history. There were some places where I’d have liked things to move a little faster, but for the most part, the slow pace didn’t bother me and things picked up quite nicely when Addie met Henry. It did help that though there are a lot of chapters, they are all pretty short.
This is definitely a character drawn story rather than a plot one. The plot can be a little thin in places, it does feel like a series of unconnected snapshots in places but again, as soon as the two main characters meet, things improve on that front. Plus, thankfully the characters are really strong. I definitely connected more to Henry than Addie, he felt more grounded and I loved seeing a softer and more sensitive male character being cast as the love interest as I so often read about these brash alpha male leads. Basically if you like cinnamon roll characters, you will love Henry. I could also relate a lot to Henry’s struggle with figuring out what he wanted to do in life and his feeling like time is moving too fast sometimes, as those are definitely feelings I’ve had in the past too.
I did like Addie’s character, her stubborn determination, her ability to find joy even when her life seems so bleak, her need for adventure and longing to escape from her small town, all of those aspects of her character I loved. However, due to the nature of her curse, she does have a tendency to be quite self absorbed and selfish and she did feel kind of aloof and disconnected in places. I have to admit for someone who longs for adventure, Addie certainly moves very slowly through the world and stays in places for a very long time, though I guess that makes sense for someone who has never been further than her small village in her entire life!
However that is the beauty of Schwab’s characters, they are always flawed, Henry also has flaws, I can’t say too much about this because it’s actually a spoiler for a certain plot thread in the book, but I thought Schwab made a really interesting choice in the way she showed Henry’s flaws through this particular plot thread (I’m sorry, I know that’s super vague, but I literally can’t say more than that without dropping a massive spoiler).
Luc is the villain in this book, and as with all of Schwab’s villains, he’s incredibly morally grey. It’s easy to see why Addie is captivated with him, he’s certainly charming and mysterious, but she definitely doesn’t shy away from his less palatable aspects either, he has serious anger issues and is very emotionally manipulative.
THE EMOTION IN THIS BOOK WAS EVERYTHING. Schwab definitely leans hard into the emotional beats of this story and it paid off: over the course of 483 pages, I felt ALL THE THINGS.
I loved that the entire main cast of this book was LGBTQIA+ and that it’s so casually done, it’s just a fact, it’s not a big deal, it’s just another aspect of their identities. Henry is pansexual, Addie is bisexual (it’s not confirmed on page that’s she’s pan, so I’m going with bi, as opposed to Henry who makes a statement on page that confirms his pansexuality), Bea is lesbian and Robbie is gay. It’s basically everyone is gay here vibes in a book!
Having said that, there is definitely a lack of acknowledgment of POC in this book. Bea is the only POC character confirmed on page, and this does seem like an oversight, especially given that Addie lives through the height of colonialism, it feels like that should definitely have been acknowledged in the text. All of the places she visits are Western as well, it would have been nice if Schwab had ventured a little further afield than Europe and the US.
I love how honestly Schwab explores Henry’s mental health in this book, she mentioned in her Waterstones event for this book that she drew on her own experiences for this and you could definitely tell, his struggles felt so raw and real and I loved that she didn’t shy away from exploring that.
Okay, so the romance. Schwab has said that this is the closest thing to a love story she has ever written and to some extent that’s true, but of course because it’s Schwab, things are not as simple as that.
First we have Luc and Addie. The dynamic between Luc and Addie is very interesting, they certainly have this kind of cat and mouse thing going on as he tries to get her to surrender and she consistently refuses. They definitely have an attraction, but this is not a healthy relationship and Schwab definitely reinforces that. Addie is essentially emotionally manipulated by the Darkness for 300 years, their relationship is based on him wanting to own her, to possess her, to be the only thing in her life. I would definitely say that their dynamic has some of the hallmarks of emotional abuse, and I think that’s what Schwab was trying to go for: it’s reinforced over and over again that Luc looks as her as a prize to win, that he gave her no other option but him and she says several times, “This isn’t love”. So if you’re looking for a romantic love story based on mutual respect, you will not find it in Addie and Luc!
The other romance is Addie and Henry and whilst I did like them together, their relationship definitely felt very one sided. Henry actually seemed to genuinely like her and care about her, whereas Addie really seemed to only care about the fact that he could remember her. That’s probably quite cynical of me, but I genuinely felt like Henry deserved better than someone who didn’t really seem to care all that much about what he brought to a relationship, more the mere fact that he remembered her. That could just be me being cynical though!
This book is all about the small moments. There are some plot twists (though most are quite easily worked out), but for the most part it’s about the small moments that make up a life, the first time seeing the sea, a visit to the opera (that bit particularly got to me as it reminded me how much I miss theatre) and in any other book, I so would not care, but Schwab has this way of making the small moments feel monumental.
Obviously in the e-ARC that I read, the art that’s interspersed between the part dividers isn’t there, but I got a finished copy as well and WOW. They really went above and beyond with the art for this book so if you can get a physical copy, I would! Art is so important in this book, it’s basically Addie’s reason for being, how she survives alone in the world for 300 years and that really struck a chord with me. I’ve really relied on art to get me through this pandemic, be it music, TV, film, theatre (livestreamed for the most part), books, it’s all those things that have kept me going and this book really draws on that feeling of how important art can be for survival.
The past and the present timelines were done really well, they’re interwoven really neatly and the switching didn’t feel clumsy at all (not that I’m surprised by that, Vengeful showed just how masterful Schwab is at switching between different points in time). I loved all of the flashbacks to the past, honestly I could read a whole different book just about everything that Addie did in the past (petition for a book about Addie as a spy in WWII PLEASE!).
Schwab does so well with the side characters in this, there are a lot of people who are only a fleeting part of Addie’s story, but even if they are only there for a chapter, you feel their impact throughout the book and how they’ve shaped Addie, it definitely feels like they all could have their own stories.
I like the way that certain objects recur throughout the book, the bird, the leather jacket, the ring, it’s cool how certain objects in Addie’s life have particular significance to her story.
I’m not usually a fan of fabulism, but I thought the way Schwab used it here with Luc worked really well.
The way faith plays into this is very interesting, there’s a definite juxtaposition between Catholicism and Paganism which I thought was cool. Henry is also Jewish (though not practicing) and it’s one of very few times I’ve read a book with a Jewish main character where the book wasn’t about the Holocaust, so that was great (and I have to admit, I feel a bit silly for not realising before now that her family is Jewish!).
I do wish there was more dialogue, this book is very heavy on the description and very light on the dialogue and I will always at heart be a dialogue lover (and Schwab does dialogue so well) so I would have liked a bit more, especially to break up some of the more chunky passages. Where there is dialogue, it’s great though, especially some of the witty exchanges between Addie and Luc.
I love how Schwab approached female pleasure in this book, Addie’s sexuality is explored in a wonderful way. She mentions female masturbation, which is something you HARDLY EVER SEE in books (I can count on the fingers of one hand books that have mentioned it, in fact I think this may only be the second I’ve read). I also loved how consent was emphasised in the book, it’s super sexy and makes the sex scenes so much nicer to read (they are few and far between don’t worry if it’s not your thing).
Schwab does explore how being a woman makes it harder for Addie to move through the world, which I appreciated as it would have seemed strange if she hadn’t acknowledged that given the time period Addie comes from. Like I said before it does miss the mark on race though, there’s no acknowledgement of how being a white woman makes it easier for Addie to move invisibly through the world that it might have been for a Black woman with the same curse.
Addie does also have a slight tendency of “not like other girls” about her when she looks down on her friend for wanting to be a wife and mother. Fair enough highlight how women had less choices in the 18th century, but I didn’t love how Schwab portrayed Isabelle’s choice as obviously the wrong one just because it wasn’t what Addie wanted.
There is less worldbuilding than in Schwab’s other novels but that’s largely as this one is set in our world. She definitely seemed to have thought through all of the logistics of the curse though, everything had an explanation (barring one small exception that I thought she could have explained better). I would have liked it if I’d had a slightly better sense of place in the past chapters though, Schwab does bring in some historical people, but I would have liked a few more historical details in the past chapters to really establish the point that Addie is in time.
I loved the bookstore Henry works at, The Last Word, and especially the shop cat Book, it reminded me of second hand bookshop that my Nana used to take me to when I was younger that had a shop dog, a Border Collie!
I LOVED THE ENDING SO MUCH. It definitely hit me with all the emotions but I thought it was a really perfect way to wrap everything up and it definitely did feel like a self contained story, though there are things I would still love if Schwab explored further in the future.
Overall this was a really fantastic book, it’s beautifully written, it’s incredibly emotional and though the plot could be a little thin in places, it has wonderfully lively characters that you’ll just fall in love with. Schwab’s adult books are always fantastic and I can’t wait to see what she does next!
My Rating: 4.5/5 (just didn’t quite make the 5, if the plot had been slightly stronger it probably would have).
My next review will be of The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, my October #RockMyTBR book. Thanks for bearing with me whilst I’ve been catching up on my slight review backlog from October, I finished everything in kind of a rush in the last few days of October/first few days of November, so I’ve been a tad behind!