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invisible life of addie larueThe Emperor, His Clothes, and an Unpopular Opinion

Author: V.E. Schwab

France, 1714 – a desperate young woman makes a deal with the darkness to escape her provincial village, the expectations of marriage, and the work-a-day demands of life to gain immortality and adventure. But, of course, there’s a cost. While Addie will live forever, no one will ever remember her, and she can leave no mark of herself on the world. Her family, her friends, everyone she ever meets will forget her the moment she walks away. And the darkness will follow her through the centuries, taunting and demanding the soul that she sold for a freedom that is nothing but chains. That is until one day when she meets a man who cannot forget her.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is the new “it” book, popping up at every book club, every Good Reads forum, and in every to-read list. Everyone raves about it. The drama, the pathos, the meaning, the poetry of words . . .  and meanwhile, there’s me, sitting in the corner, nursing my unpopular opinion. This book is just overrated. Seriously, the Emperor is getting rather chilly at this point.

painting of a woman

Image by JL G from Pixabay

Everything starts well enough as we meet Addie, although from the beginning she fails to truly inspire my empathy. It’s a case of the lady protesting too much. Addie thinks she is too good for the regular life of those around her, and while I can intellectually understand her desire to break the mold and follow her dreams, it doesn’t shine through the page in a way that captures the extremity of her ultimate decision. Selling your soul is a better proposition than marrying a dude and settling down? Addie . . . Addie . . . Also, for a character who is supposedly so smart, she sure doesn’t ask any questions of the dark god who appears and offers to do her bidding. Seems like the sort of conversation you’d want to pay attention to or at least, you know, have.

Now that Addie doesn’t have to play the regular role and now that she will live, young and vibrant forever, she can go anywhere and be anything. Mind you, there is that pesky cost she forgot to ask about. It soon makes itself apparent when Addie goes home and when she tries to follow her old friend and out of site, out of mind takes on terrifying relevance.

This freedom is strange though, because despite Addie’s spirit and desire to get revenge against the dark itself, she never really explores what she sold everything to gain: her immortality and ability to go anywhere and be anything. Addie mostly slumps through history on the sidelines, surviving by petty theft, waking unremembered and unwanted, unable to write or draw or do anything that leaves behind a permanent mark. Addie does finally make it to Paris (her original dream), but then she just stays there, and three hundred years of vibrant history happen (presumably) off screen, as Addie feels very sorry for herself and occasionally has tense conversations with the darkness incarnate, who receives the name Luc. Wars happen – World Wars happen! – but Addie neither knows nor cares. She doesn’t really travel, nor does she use her immortality to do anything other than read the same books she has read before (seriously). Why did you sell everything for adventure, Addie, and then not, you know, go on said adventure?

woman and dog painting

Image by JL G from Pixabay

As the story progresses into modern day, Addie is slinking around, meeting former romantic partners who no longer remember her, having one-night-stands that end when the surprised person awakes next to her, confused, in the morning, and sitting on roof tops and feeling very bilious.

Meanwhile, a man who works in a book story is also very, lyrically mopey. Could he be the match to Addie’s curse, with his own dark past somehow intersecting with hers, leading to an ill-fated staycation romance where he and Addie converse about how lonely and miserable they are while eating take-out? You guessed it!

Ok – not to make the book sound totally terrible, I have to step back and admit two things: the writing was exquisite and Luc was a good villain.

The writing really is sublime, although terminally depressing. V.E. Schwab can weave a sentence in new and inventive ways, and it’s hard to notice all the flaws of the book (like the missing history, which I only really thought about when I started to read other reviews) during such lilting writing. But, as with most things, a little goes a long way. This book could have easily lost two thirds of its pages without losing any real content, and while each sentence was beautiful, they were all repetitive and very few were actually needed. The beauty also veered into melodrama when you compare the two sad-sack characters, both of whom actually have pretty good lives (considering how utterly self-indulgent and selfish they are) curse or no. Side note (and spoiler) the effects of Henry’s curse have a distinctly rapey vibe. If you are magically seducing people by being their all, isn’t there some major, major elements of consent that just went out the window?

Image by soundsonic from Pixabay

Luc – the god of darkness, devil, what have you, is the only character in the book who really left me with any emotion. Neither Addie nor her paramour really elicited any genuine interest from me, but Luc was another matter. His encounters with Addie are the only real spice in the book, and while his motivations are awfully convenient plot-wise, his portrayal at least keeps up the glamorously evil, multi-faceted villain vibe that most of us find appealing. Luc cannot, unfortunately, carry the weight of the novel on his own, and he is really just another selfish character in an overly-indulgent world anyway.

Fortunately, I tend to read around ten books at once, so The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue didn’t affect my general reading joy, and I was able to take it at a much slower pace than usual and just enjoy the mellifluous writing. If this had been the only thing I was reading, I’m sure I would have felt entirely differently. All in all, I’m glad I’ve been able to see what all the fuss is about, but I think The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is just a showy book with very little actual content and a very basic story that is never fulfilled.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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