Literature is full of examples of why one needs to be careful what we wish for because we just might get it. V.E. Schwab’s heartbreaking and clever novel, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, is one of the best versions of this old story I’ve ever read. Not only does this book feature two monkey paws, it also plumbs the emotional depths of what happens when someone doesn’t think through all of the implications of their biggest wishes.
Adeline LaRue was not meant to live in her little village of Villon-Sur-Sarthe, especially in the early eighteenth century. Her greatest joy is travelling with her father to Le Mans because it gives her a glimpse at the wider world. But when she’s pushed into marriage with an older widower, Addie makes a desperate bargain with an old deity on the night before the wedding. The deal gives Addie immortality and endless youth…at the cost of never been remembered by anyone. Her parents and neighbors think she’s a stranger. The first person she rents a room from has Addie thrown out of the room in the morning because she thinks Addie snuck in. The first years are rough on Addie and every year, on their “anniversary,” the deity (called Luc for convenience) returns to ask Addie if she’s ready to give up her life and soul yet.
But we know from the chapters set in 2014 that Addie has learned to cope with her curse. She steals what she needs and has learned to sneak out in the morning before her lovers wake up with no memory of her. It’s a lonely existence, but Addie has learned to deal with it over 300 years. I loved how stubborn Addie was. Sure, she suffers and despairs, but Luc’s constant games make Addie more angry than in the mood to give up.
One day in 2014, Addie lifts a book from The Last Word. As she walks out the door, the bookseller rushes out to catch the thief. Addie is stunned because he’s the only person other than Luc who can remember Addie once she passes out of their sight. Addie’s burgeoning relationship with Henry the bookseller raises the stakes even higher in her fight with Luc. For the first time in a long time, Addie has something to lose other than herself.
It took me some time to settle into The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I’ve learned that Schwab’s characters are always complex; no one is completely good or bad. Luc is chaos but occasionally capable of showing kindness. Henry is a thoughtful boyfriend but scarred by having his love unreciprocated in the past. He can be needy, while his own deal makes him pathologically impatient. And then, there’s Addie. Three hundred years of living without human connection that lasts longer than a few hours have made her callous about some things and very casual about the eighth commandment. These nuances are part of what make Schwab’s novels such a pleasure to read. I always know that I will get a highly original spin on tropes of good and evil and highly developed characters.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.