A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.
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.
Oh, to be a French girl who knelt in the woods, on the eve of a wedding she did not want, and prayed for freedom to a god—or perhaps a devil—who only answered after dark, and he made her a deal that will grow to be like a thorn in her, a taunt: she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by everyone she meets, always slipping out of reach. An eternity of flitting from one place to another, never feeling quite at home anywhere, and from one person to another, leaving behind only the phantom feel of her touch, and the faint memory of seven freckles dotting her cheeks, like a scattering of stars…
That is, until a boy born with a broken heart says, “I remember you”, and it feels like a prayer. Like a crack in the mortar of her curse.
“Why would anyone trade a lifetime of talent for a few years of glory?” Luc’s smile darkens. “Because time is cruel to all, and crueler still to artists. Because vision weakens, and voices wither, and talent fades.” He leans close, twists a lock of her hair around one finger. “Because happiness is brief, and history is lasting, and in the end,” he says, “everyone wants to be remembered.”
I’ve read many of Schwab’s books, and I can confidently state that this is undoubtedly the single best piece of writing she’s produced. The premise is gripping, but it’s the author’s writing with its sentient quality—as though you can hear each word as it takes shape on the paper like a whisper in your ear, that unmistakable storyteller cadence that could turn a street corner into a sacred place—that made this novel so winning to me.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” teems with passages of transfixing description, and I simply let myself sink into the velvet-soft embrace of the author’s storytelling as cozily as into a well-worn sweater. Even now, days after I’ve read it, I find myself returning to parts of the book to re-experience the heady prose, to open up those moments and stretch them out full length, and figure out what it is that made them splinter inside me.
This is not a novel of thrilling or particularly suspenseful conflicts so much as it is a story of indelible and poignant encounters. The novel breezes by at a leisurely pace, as the story slowly takes shape before its reader like smoke poured into an invisible mold. This could potentially be frustrating for readers who prefer propulsive plotlines and clear-cut resolutions, as the novel offers neither, but I loved it precisely for that.
Schwab is simply a magician at tugging so many difficult themes into a heart-wrenching whole, and that is the novel’s biggest triumph for me: the way her words echoed through my head—a terrible, reverberating symmetry—and lingered long past the last page.
The author approaches the story from dual directions, alternating stretches of Addie’s long life, a crossfade between past and present, to Henry’s beautifully and painfully lived moments.
Three hundred years is a long time to be alone. In three hundred years, that aloneness grows deep roots. It works its way into every crevice, it gnaws at you from within, until you feel as though all your limbs are connected by thin threads, and a wind could blow you apart. It was longer still for Addie who moved through places where rivers of people pulsed like blood, but her body remained nothing more than an apparition, as insubstantial as a hologram, to everyone but the devil who kept her company when he deigned her a glance.
“Do not mistake this—any of it—for kindness, Adeline.” His eyes go bright with mischief. “I simply want to be the one who breaks you.”
Twenty-eight years, too, is a long time to be alone. Henry was born into a world he felt only halfway inside of. He is full to the brim with desires—they piled up in his throat, squeezing his neck like a tight collar: Henry yearned to be loved, to be wanted, to be enough. And he wanted it all with the greed of someone starved.
For years, Addie and Henry both formed the same crooning, desperate, yearning plea in their minds: to not be alone. They had long been wandering in the same labyrinth—both comfortless, lonely, and empty—and had finally rounded the corner that brought them face-to-face. It was the feeling of being invisible and lost and searching and then suddenly neither—and it was heady.
It’s that loneliness that drew Luc’s—the devil’s—eye like a blight on the horizon.
So goes “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue”, a novel that probes, painstakingly, at that aloneness, and the inconsolable grief of it. It’s there, in Henry’s quiet, troubled loneliness, like a man still puzzling over a bad dream. In how unrooted Addie feels everywhere, how tenuous a grasp the world has on her. How the whole of their history feels dark and cold and far away. It’s even in the way Luc wanted that history to be only an amusement, grist for his relentless mischief, but it was instead a mirror that granted a ruinous glimpse of that great, hollow place inside him.
There is fear at the heart of this novel, after all, like a thorn deep in a festering wound: Will you always drift through life more than you walk, feeling less like yourself and more like a kind of lost and wandering mist? Will your heart always hurt for the wanting of someone? Will you be remembered or will your memory be washed away like dust motes when it rains? What will survive of us? Of all the profound ideas echoing throughout this novel, that last one was its most resonant.
Still, hope is a small heated ball at the heart of this novel, and the answers the characters find for themselves at the end (‘Were the instants of joy worth the stretches of sorrow? Were the moments of beauty worth the years of pain? […] “Always.”’) feel like a spill of confession, like a weight released at last after long hours of bearing it up.
Three hundred years is indeed a long time to be alive, but for three hundred years, Addie LaRue twirled around the world, holding her eyes wide open, and always found something new. Addie LaRue learned to love it, all of it, even when it pounded over her in waves that left her gasping, even when it hurt, because it was wonderful too. And always, always worth it.
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.
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