◐ Book Name: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue (2020)
◐ Author: V.E. Schwab
◐ Genre: Fantasy
◐ Pages: 444
◐ Synopsis (Goodreads):
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.
Recommended for readers of romance with fantasy, bittersweet endings, and lyrical writing
death, some sexuality
◐ Review: 5/5 ⭐
I’ll admit, I wasn’t particularly drawn to this book at first. I’ve read the author’s first two books in the Shades of Magic trilogy, and wasn’t impressed. Not bad, by today’s standards, but nothing to write home about (indeed, I didn’t even bother writing reviews on them). I also have little interest in books centered around romance.
This. Book. Gave. Me. Feelings.
Schwab’s writing has come a long way since Shades of Magic. There is more nuance, more mastery, more artistry to her writing. There is a universality to her themes in this book: of being known, of being loved, of what it means to live.
Addie makes the mistake of making a deal with Darkness, whom she later names Luc—a familiar trope about wishes twisted into curses. She asks for freedom, and in so doing, finds the greatest freedom in being forgotten by everyone, including her own family and friends. She is free from commitments, from any past, from duty.
The book asks a striking question, especially in our individualistic western culture: is it really ideal to have no ties?
Addie lives free, with only Luc for company every few years, and finds only loneliness.
Three hundred years of loneliness later, one man says this to her, and in those three words, I felt the awe and disbelief Addie felt. She is accustomed to being forgotten as soon as the person turns their back. She has no shared history with anyone, no shared memories—none of those essential aspects that build a relationship.
Yet he remembers her. She sees him. In this, they know each other, and from that knowledge, grow to love one another, truly. The girl who wanted to free. The boy who wanted to be enough.
But Addie is also immortal because of the deal she made, and Henry is not. Knowing they will someday end, the book also asks, is the pain of separation worth that small part of time they share?
This relationship is juxtaposed with Addie’s relationship with Luc, who has all the typical trappings of a toxic, possessive boyfriend. Luc is the only one to remember Addie and manipulates her using that. And she, so desperate for remembrance, wavers between hating him and needing him.
I suppose this book struck me because these are all questions I have wrestled with myself, as I’m sure many others have also: what it means to be human, what it means to love and be loved, what it is to face the brevity of life. Schwab handles it all with delicacy and grace.
This is more than just a love story. This is a book about the human condition.
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What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?
If she must grow roots, she would rather be left to flourish wild instead of pruned, would rather stand alone, allowed to grow beneath the open sky. Better that than firewood, cut down just to burn in someone else’s hearth.
And this is what she’s settled on: she can go without food (she will not wither). She can go without heat (the cold will not kill her). But a life without art, without wonder, without beautiful things–she would go mad. She has gone mad.
What she needs are stories.
Stories are a way to preserve one’s self. To be remembered. And to forget.
Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives–or to find strength in a very long one.
[She] had wanted to be a tree. To grow wild and deep, belong to no one but the ground beneath her feet, and the sky above.
The sky outside is a static gray, a thin mist of rain blurring the buildings. It is the kind of day designed for wood fires, and mugs of tea, and well-loved books.
It is sad, of course, to forget.
But it is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.
To remember when no one else does.
Being forgotten, she thinks, is a bit like going mad. You begin to wonder what is real, if you are real. After all, how can a thing be real if it cannot be remembered? It’s like that Zen koan, the one about the tree falling in the woods.
If no one heard it, did it happen?
If a person cannot leave a mark, do they exist?
“All things have names,” she says. “Names have purpose. Names have power.”
In this moment, she is holding to the sound of her name, her real name, on someone else’s tongue, and it is enough, it is enough, it is enough.
But this is how you walk to the end of the world.
This is how you live forever.
Here is one day, and here is the next, and the next, and you take what you can, savor every stolen second, cling to every moment, until it’s gone.
“They will not remember you, of course. But ideas are so much wilder than memories, so much faster to take root.”
“The nicest days are always the ones we don’t plan.”
And despite the doors and walls between them, she can feel the weight of what she left behind, and she wishes she could have stayed, wishes that when [he] had said Wait, she had said, Come with me, but she knows it is not fair to make him choose. He is full of roots, while she has only branches.
“I’m fine,” he says again.
And they both know him well enough to know it is a lie. They know about his broken heart. They’ve both coaxed him through his storms. They are the best people in his life, the ones who hold him together, or at least, who keep him from falling apart. But right now, there are too many cracks. Right now, there is a chasm between their words and his ears, their hands and his skin.
They are right there, but they feel so far away.
“You can’t make people love you. If it’s not a choice, it isn’t real.”
It is such a grand word, soul. Like god, like time, like space, and when she’s tried to picture it, she’s conjured images of lightning, or sunbeams through dust, of storms in the shapes of human forms, of vast and edgeless whhite.
Memories are stiff, but thoughts are freer things. They throw out roots, they spread and tangle, and come untethered from their source. They are clever, and stubborn, and perhaps–perhaps–they are in reach.
Grief, deep as a well, opens inside her.
What is the point in planting seeds?
Why tend them? Why help them grow?
Everything crumbles in the end.
And she is all that’s left, a solitary ghost hosting a vigil for forgotten things.
“I love you,” he says, and Addie wonders if this is love, this gentle thing.
If it is meant to be this soft, this kind.
The difference between heat, and warmth.
Passion, and contentment.
Most fights, after all, are not the work of an instant. They build over days, or weeks, each side gathering their kindling, stoking their flames.
Were the instants of joy worth the stretches of sorrow?
Were the moments of beauty worth the years of pain?
And she turns her head, and looks at him, and says, “Always.”
And this, he decides, is what a good-bye should be.
Not a period, but an ellipsis, a statement trailing off, until someone is there to pick it up.
It is a door left open.
It is drifting off to sleep.
And he tells himself he is not afraid.
Tells himself it is okay, he is okay.
“Do you know how you live three hundred years?” she says.
And when he asks how, she smiles. “The same way you live one. A second at a time.”
They teach you growing up that you are only one thing at a time–angry, lonely, content–but he’s never found that to be true. He is a dozen things at once. He is lost and scared and grateful, he is sorry and happy and afraid.
But he is not alone.
No one is ever ready to die.
Even when they think they want to.
He just wants to hold on to this moment, to make it last, to will it still, turn the film into a freeze frame, let that be the end, not darkness, not nothing, just a permanent moment. A memory, trapped in amber, in glass, in time.
“Think of it as a thank-you,” she says, “for seeing me. For showing me what it’s like to be seen. To be loved. … But you have to let them see you as you are. You have to find people who see you.”