The Invisible Life Of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab (ebook review).

In ‘The Invisible Life Of Addie Larue’ by V.E. Schwab, Adeline Larue grows up in the village of Villon Sur Sarthe in early 18th Century France. During her childhood, her father takes her with him to the nearby city of Le Mans where he sells his woodworking wares. It is on these trips that he tells her wonderful stories that set her imagination alight.

Later, she is forbidden from going with him and must adapt to the life of the village but instead becomes a dreamer, a restless soul who refuses to marry or settle down. Her family eventually give her one ‘last chance’ which they will not let her refuse.

Schooled in the way of the old Gods by Estele Magritte, the local wise woman, she accidentally calls for help from the God that answers after dark. In exchange for her soul, she makes a pact to live until she gives up living, with the proviso of being forgotten by everyone and everything. Centuries pass and she travels the world, straining against the rules of her bargain. Then, quite unexpectedly in a New York bookshop, she meets a man who remembers her. But why can Henry Strauss remember her when no-one else can and what do people see when they meet him that always makes him the person they need?

One thing I should make clear is that this is not a novel full of action. There are no edge of the seat action set pieces where the protagonist is at risk of certain death. This is a novel that takes its time, slowly building up a picture of a life limited by sparse surroundings and opportunity, a life that is not enough for Addie Larue. She makes her deal with ‘Luc’, who may or may not be Lucifer, out of desperation, to avoid what she sees as a fate worse than death, marriage and motherhood.

Because we get to see her life gradually unfold, we can empathise with her restlessness and ambition and want her to escape. But the escape does not go as planned. Luc is a trickster, so even though she can keep on living, to the world at large is was like she never lived at all. Her parents do not remember her, nor does anyone in the village and, even if she makes herself known, they forget her as soon as she is out of sight. Not even her footsteps remain but fade away in moments, even the soil unable to recall her.

Addie learns harsh lessons about life and that a woman alone is very limited in 18th Century French society. She becomes a vagabond, living on the streets, even selling her body on the docks for small change. In short, she despairs and yet doesn’t give up, finding that even though no-one remembers her, she remembers everything. She discovers books and art and, in her own small way, finds ways to influence artists even though they cannot remember her. She has various adventures and becomes possessed of serenity and patience, finding comfort in small pleasures, in small ways that her curse can benefit her. She also meets Luc many times and he is her only companion, their relationship changing and growing as they wage war with each other over the centuries.

As for Henry Strauss, he is the companion of the present as Luc is the companion of the past, but he does not exist as some white knight to save Addie from her fate. He is a man who is unsure of himself, where he is going and who he is meant to be. Like Addie in the past, he resists setting himself on a path but, unlike her, he seems to be waiting for someone to force him to make a choice. When the woman he asks to marry him, rejects him, he drunkenly makes a very bad mistake that makes none of his relationships real any more. With the appearance of Addie, that changes and she helps him grow and finally understand himself.

The way the story is told is a jigsaw puzzle that the reader slowly puts together. Chapters alternate between past and present, so as the reader learns more about the past it affects how we read the present. Addie is almost like two different people, the one from the past slowly becoming the one of the present until it all clicks and makes sense. This all comes together to create a deeper understanding of the story and an appreciation of its inherent beauty. I say ‘beauty’ because this is indeed a beautiful story and the prose style almost musical. The author doesn’t just tell you what you need to know, but also does not bury you in a sea of unnecessary description. To coin a phrase, the writing is simple but elegant.

There’s no getting away from the fact that I did like this book, even though it is a slow burn and might not please everyone. But then I’ve always liked stories that ask questions and tried to find the answers. This isn’t just about what happens to Addie, this is about how Addie deals with what happens, how she adapts and we might think we could adapt in the same way or in a worse way or a better way. It’s also about the effect she has on others, when she is meant to have no effect at all. She is clever, wily and refuses to be the victim of her pact.

Without giving away the ending, Addie makes a final change. Having lived like a normal mortal, falling in love and telling her story to Henry, she is satisfied. As Luc becomes more like her, she becomes more like him, a being of infinite patience waiting to spring her trap.

GD Tinnams

January 2021

(pub: Titan Books, 2020. 560 page kindle book 135kB. Price: £ 6.64 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78565-250-9)

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