by V.E. Schwab
„Do you think a life has any value if one doesn’t leave some mark upon the world?“
I’m late to the party: this is my first V.E. Schwab novel. And guess what? I’m now a steadfast Schwabista for life. ‚The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue‘ was my most anticipated new release-read of the year, not only because it was released on my birthday, and it was even better than I hoped. Schwab has writen an epic story full of heartbreak, love and cleverness that is carried by its extraordinary protagonist: Addie LaRue is a character you’ll – most ironically – never forget.
Addie’s story is told in two time levels interchangeably, very much like The Lies of Locke Lamora: we have the protagonist acting in medias res and also on her way there. One story is about Addie in modern-day New York, the other one tells us how she ended up there – and very unlike ‚The Lies of Locke Lamora‘, these time levels aren’t as close to each other as one would expect. Because Addie LaRue is, at the start of this novel in 2014, already 300 years old.
Why? Not because she’s hidden away some fancy horcruxes or drinks loads of Elixir of Life. No, Addie’s lot is much harder: when she was a young woman in early 18th-century France, her parents wanted to steer her into an arranged marriage. Addie’s attitude towards this thing was as negative as possible, and there were two major reasons for this. Reason One: she really didn’t fancy this Roger guy she was supposed to marry. Reason Two: Addie wanted to be free. She was, and remains for the whole book, an extremely independent and curious person that wants to see as much of this world as possible. And marrying some French farmer and spending the rest of her life raising his children didn’t agree with her character at all.
‚Three and twenty – and then gifted like a prize sow to a man she does not love, or want, or even know. She said no, and learned how much the word was worth. (…) Adeline was going to be a tree, and instead, people have come brandishing an ax. They have given her away.‘
So what does she do? Run away and leave him at the altar like Julia Roberts?
Of course she does, but sadly, that’s not all she does. No, Addie prays to the Old Gods (not those from Game of Thrones, I guess) and begs them to help her – and one of these gods answers her prayer and offers her a way out. All she has to do to become free is to trade in her soul. And Addie, desperate and frightened Addie, agrees.
„I want a chance to live. I want to be free.“ She thinks of the years slipping by. Blink, and half your life is gone. „I want more time.“
From this moment on, Addie is immortal until she will ask this god, Luc, to end her life and collect her soul. She is also free, but not in the way she imagined: after this Faustian bargain, Addie cannot be remembered by anyone. Whoever meets her forgets her right when she is out of his sight – her parents and friends included.
„Who are you?“
The words are a hiss, and she realises then, that fearsome look on her mother’s face is not the anger of a mother scorned, but that of a woman scared. (…)
„I am your daughter“, she says again.
Her father grimaces. „We have no child.“
Addie is also unable to tell anyone about the curse, very much like the bewitched people in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and she isn’t even able to say her own name from this point on. So Addie leaves her home with a broken heart and starts to explore this wide world she has always longed to see. Of course, things are now a lot harder for her. How do you get a place when the person you buy the place from immediately forgets you? How can you get a job?
‚She tells the story of her life to the little carving, as if afraid she’ll forget herself as easily as others do, unaware that her mind is now a flawless cage, her memory a perfect trap. She will never forget, though she’ll wish she could.‘
There’s only one job Addie can do that can be done quickly and without leaving the customers for a moment: she ends up as a prostitute in the streets of Paris. To summarise her story up to this point: life’s shit. Naturally, Luc the god/devil/demon/whatever turns up and offers to end her suffering by collecting her soul. But, people? Addie is not willing to to give up at all, and she is still full of hope that things will turn out good, no matter what Luc says.
„You think it will get easier“, he says. „It will not. You are as good as gone, and every year you live will feel a lifetime, and in every lifetime, you will be forgotten. Your pain is meaningless. Your life is meaningless. The years will be like weights around your ankles. They will crush you, bit by bit, and when you cannot stand it, you will beg me to put you from your misery.“
And things get better. Bit by bit, Addie crawls out of the mess her life has turned into and uses the advantages of people forgetting her as soon as she vanishes from their sight: she steals everything she can. How else is she supposed to make a living? While the story of how Addie tests the boundaries of her curse goes on for the next 300 years, the other time level tells a much shorter period in 2014: Addie in modern New York, living her life without friends, without anyone who cares about her, because how can you make friends or find love when people forget you as soon as you leave the room?
‚It was, for Sam, a rare impulsive moment.
It was, for Addie, the second month of an affair. (…) Sure, she dreams of sleepy morning over coffee, legs draped across a lap, inside jokes and easy laughter, but those comforts come with the knowing. There can be no slow build, no quiet lust, intimacy fostered over days, weeks, months. Not for them.‘
Until suddenly, there’s someone who doesn’t forget her. Someone who remembers. After 300 years, the impossible happens: Addie runs into someone (while stealing, of course) and is recognised. Henry Strauss remembers her, and from now on, this isn’t only Addie’s story, but also his, and all of the sadness, all the disappointment that Addie has suffered over the last 300 years is gone – there’s hope.
‚Three hundred years she’s managed to suffer time, but now, now there is a present and a future, now there is something waiting ahead, now she cannot wait to see the look on Henry’s face, to hear her name on his lips. (…) She’s nervous. Nervous like tomorrow, a word for things that have not happened yet. A word for futures, when for so long all she’s had are presents.‘
But of course, there’s a reason why Henry is unlike everyone else. So much for the plot, because spoilers. Anyway, the rest of it heartbreaking and intense as hell. There’s a reason why I devoured this book in a day as greedy as Garfield devours lasagna, after all: this is a masterpiece. V.E. Schwab goes straight to my list of authors whose books I buy without reading reviews. The plot itself, this brilliant mixure of The Picture of Dorian Gray and ’50 First Dates‘, is already amazing, but the way Schwab delivers it is extraordinary. Her storytelling is superb, and Addie is a hell of a narrator. I loved every bit of this book: the yearly meetings with Luc (-ifer) who keeps asking for Addie’s soul, the chemistry between the characters, the way Schwab put every single word in this one right where it belongs. All of its sadness, all of its heartbreak, all of Addie’s cheek: I loved it.
‚She never gets closure, never gets to say good-bye – no periods, or exclamations, just a lifetime of ellipses. Everyone else starts over, they get a blank page, but hers are full of text. People talk about carrying torches for old flames, and it’s not a full fire, but Addie’s hands are full of candles. How is she supposed to set them down, or put them out? She has long run out of air.‘
Me to talking to this book:
The hype is real: this is great. Highly recommended to anyone, go pick it up, people. Five very deserved stars.