The upcoming novel by V.E. Schwab tells the story of a girl, Adeline ‘Addie’ La Rue, who, during her youth in 18th century France, makes a deal with the Devil — she receives eternal life, but with the caveat that no one she meets will ever remember her. No one, until one day, in modern New York, she meets a boy who does. The story has something of The Age of Adaline, the flavour of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, aesthetic similarities to Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. But mostly, it is something entirely new, and profoundly special.
Schwab is a prolific fantasy writer, and readers familiar with her œuvre of work will know some of her narrative trademarks — complicated characters, intricate systems of magic and the underlying appeal of the ‘dark side’. But by her own admission, The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue “probably has more ‘me’ in it than anything else I’ve written”. And this sense of intense intimacy and vulnerability is suffused throughout the entire book. Beyond feeling like the author is exposing herself to you, you feel as though it is something you have lived or are living, the complicated, at times agonising sensation that your deepest desires and fears — ones rooted so deeply that you were perhaps unaware you even have them — are unspooling on the pages in front of you.
It is slower, certainly, than say the Shades of Magic trilogy, one of Schwab’s best loved series. The magic leans closer to magical realism than most of Schwab’s other books do — it exists, and it enables the plot of the book, but it is not the story’s focus. It’s hard to actually talk about the plot in much detail for two reasons. Firstly, the pacing of this book and the way the narrative runs on a few parallel timelines and flashback sequences means that the plot is intricately woven, and it’s hard to give away a little bit without giving away a lot. Secondly, the plot really isn’t the most special part of this book. Do not misunderstand me — it’s unique and intriguing, full of tension and twists that made my heart race and skip beats. But the magic of this book is in the prose and the characters. It’s taken me awhile to sit down and write this review, because it’s difficult to articulate exactly what Schwab does with her writing and how it makes me feel. My friend Sara was the one who put it exactly into words: “I feel like I’ve read it before — not that the story’s not really original, but it feels so comfortingly familiar”. This is a book about memory and remembering, about the desperate needs that drive people — to be loved, to leave a mark, to experience life freely. This desperation is so beautifully rendered by the prose that it becomes your own. It’s an ache and a bone-deep longing that comes to life so evocatively precisely because it draws on such genuine desires.
There is also the way this book deals with the simple terror of growing up, particularly with the sudden transition from girlhood to womanhood where it feels like what were once simple matters of your everyday existence are things you ought now to be punished for. Addie’s mounting panic at the realisation that the life she is expected to lead in her French village is inevitable and mandated, and something she is to be forced into simply for having grown out of what society labels childishness — but what she experiences as freedom, and dreaming, and longing — was startlingly, painfully resonant to me as I find myself finishing university and being propelled suddenly into the “real world”. It pains me that I can hardly say anything at all about the character of Henry without divulging far too much of the story, but just like Addie, he is gut-wrenching in his believability and vulnerability. As for Luc, Scwhab’s rendering of the Devil — well, it should come to no surprise that the author has made him seductive and terrifying and oh-so-frighteningly attuned to a universal and potent fear, the fear that can come with wanting something and wanting it enough that both to get it and to lose it would destroy you.
Those who have been following early coverage of The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue on social media might be familiar with the hashtag being circulated by early readers of the book — #IRememberAddie. Without context, it may perhaps seem gimmicky, or trite. But having read the book — which culminates in an ending that, in the hands of a lesser writer, might well have been gimmicky and trite, but under V.E. Schwab’s pen is heartbreaking and hopeful and perfect — I can’t think of a pithier way to summarise the impossible emotional reaction I had to reading it. Schwab’s skill, in writing a book clearly so personal to her, is that to read this story is to feel that it has come out from within you. All the best books, in my mind, are the ones which manage to articulate feelings and experiences you may have reckoned with all your life but not recognised until they’re laid bare on the page in front of you. Sometimes, I finish a book and wish I hadn’t read it, simply so I could go back and experience it again for the first time. Addie isn’t like that — it feels like something I have already experienced, but posited in the most beautiful, aching, optimistic way. It slipped as easily into my heart as the oldest favourites whose spines I’ve cracked over and over, and the story rests with the memories that I’ve held onto so long they’ve become a part of me.
So I can say, with confidence, that #IRememberAddie. And when you read this book, you’ll come to realise that you just might, too.
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.