Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: Adult Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Romance
Gisselle's Rating: 4.5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
Once I began college, I fell off the wagon when it came to reading for pleasure. I enjoyed the analyzation process and literary criticism of my degree, but it had been a while since I read a book because I wanted to immerse myself in a different world. So when I picked up this book for the first time in February, I was expecting a battle with myself to keep disciplined and focused on the story, to try to get back to that same level of passion that I had towards reading in my youth. However, my preparations weren't really needed; V.E. Schwab's masterful storytelling and ability to grip and immerse me completely in her world drew me in without reservation. I remembered what it felt like to completely fall into a new setting and story that was not mine.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue depicts a devastating concept: a young woman makes a deal with an entity to be immortal, but at the ghastly price of being forgotten by everyone she encounters. On first assumption of the text's contents, I thought it was going to be about an immortal that would not be able to leave a mark on the world in the sense that perhaps she could not have children or could not become famous. I was not aware to the extent of the excruciating nature of Addie LaRue's reality, which was that she would not be remembered at all, leaving no memory of her presence even after she left someone's life for only a moment. However, all what Addie knows of her new life changes when she is introduced to Henry Strauss, a wandering soul that works in a local bookstore in New York City, and the first person to have remembered Addie since making her bargain.
Schwab's method of telling Addie LaRue's unforgettable tale overall did well to keep me committed to reading. Addie LaRue jumps back and forth in time, leaping between the early 1700s onward to the book's present date of 2014. This allows for readers to follow Addie along as she maneuvers through life 300 years after being granted immortality, but it also provides insight into Adeline's history and life/lives in the centuries previous. It is presented in a nonlinear format, but done in a way that allows the story to be told cohesively by attaching relevant memories of Addie's long life to what happens to her in 2014. It works well for the plot and serves to engage readers and keep them caring about what happens to Addie in the text, something that might not have worked as well if it had been told in a chronological fashion.
There is a lot of LGBTQA+ representation within Addie LaRue as well, even though the endgame couple is male/female. Some of the representations include the following: Addie's infatuation with Luc, the male-presenting darkness and antagonist of the plot; her couplings with Sam, a young woman who lives in New York as an artist; Bea's open identification as a lesbian; and Henry claiming that he falls for the person first and gender second, lending credibility to either bisexuality or pansexuality. This representation is demonstrated, refreshingly enough, as an aspect of their character rather than their sole identifier. I have come across many passages where LGBTQA+ characters are introduced as a surprise, or the author focuses too much on their being LGBTQA+ without elaborating on the rest of their person and traits. It was lovely to be able to watch it become unveiled in the text in such an organic manner.
Art also plays a major theme throughout the contents of the book, to the point where each part is prefaced by a relevant art piece that is featured in the pages following. It was more fun than I would have initially realized to take in the art piece at the beginning of the texts completely cold, read the passages, and then return to the beginning to re-examine with a fresh perspective of what it actually means in relation to Addie's story. Moreover, so many characters belong to some form of art that it is an inescapable staple of Addie LaRue: Henry with photography, Bea with her art thesis, Robbie with theater, Addie's father with woodwork, and more. There are plot points that involve art, such as when Addie and Henry find themselves at an obscure art exhibit that Bea introduces them too. Again, it is inescapable, but also depicted as critical to understanding these characters, these artists, through their work, ambitions, flaws, and visions of the world they are navigating.
Schwab makes a choice of changing the point of view halfway through the novel, shifting from third-person limited to somewhat of a third-person omniscient when Henry Strauss' voice is suddenly introduced. While Addie is the titular character and clearly the main protagonist, the inclusion of Henry Strauss' perspective and background, especially so late in the story, was an intriguing take that I was not sure how I felt about at first. It felt like such an abrupt change of pace, switching to another character after having dedicated so much time getting to know Addie, and at a point where a major twist had taken place. I found that Henry's mind and thought spirals were incredibly relatable for young adults in today's world, especially those that feel lost in a world especially full of possibilities, such as the undeclared major in college, the declared major that wishes to be more than what they are limited to, the average adult that believes themselves too old to change who they are. Be warned, while Addie's deal left her with a traumatic existence, Henry's ordeal throughout the text is a bit more realistic to the typical, everyday struggle of the wandering creative; negative emotions can well up during his passages, and it can be overwhelming to readers if they are not careful with their mental states and feelings of self-doubt.
One part of the novel that I equal parts loved and slightly criticized was the ending. Henry Strauss ends up writing about Addie LaRue's life, and it's revealed that the book that we - the IRL readers - are holding is the book that Henry Strauss wrote. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue exists in both real life and in the fictional universe of Schwab's making. It is a very bittersweet and beautiful realization that Addie LaRue, someone who was damned to be forgotten, was finally able to share her story in a roundabout way. We were all audience to it. However, to me, it did also read a little closely to S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, where, at the end, it was revealed that Ponyboy Curtis's theme was the novel that we had just finished reading. Yet, in the grand scheme of how Addie LaRue is presented, it does work well as a wrap-up.
To cut a long thought short, I found this book to be quite enjoyable. It inspired in me a sense of triumph when I completed it after having been in a reading slump for years. There are twists that caught me off guard, passages that caused tears to lodge in my throat, and stories that made me grin widely. All in all, a wonderful, fantastical piece of modern literature that was truly unforgettable.