I loved this book. I already thought Schwab was great, but this book combines so many things I love – history, travel, France – and it’s really character/relationship driven. The story is complicated, and there were lots of times I found myself trying to poke holes in the logistics of it all. But it’s worth a little suspension of disbelief; honestly, trying to figure out how it all worked was part of the fun. I also loved Schwab’s writing.
Addie LaRue is born in the early 1700’s in a small French village. She’s desperate to avoid being married off; she wants to live. She’s warned never to pray to the gods who answer after dark – but she does anyway. The deal of course gets twisted. She’s given time and freedom, but with a price: no one will remember she exists.
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.The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
In New York, 300 years later, Addie meets Henry in a bookstore. If Addie grew up with no future and no opportunities, Henry has everything, but he’s miserable. He feels too much and he tries too hard to be what everyone wants. He fails at nearly everything he does. But he can do one thing that no one else can – he remembers Addie.
I found Schwab’s writing thoughtful and moving, and I particularly loved her attention to detail and the way she developed the characters. I love a long epic story, and Schwab gives us that. It seems that some readers found this book slow-moving, but I didn’t (I much prefer character-driven to action-oriented novels). The terms of Addie’s deal are complicated, and Schwab spends time on the details.
I also loved the characters. Addie is incredibly brave and strong-willed. She’s who I would like to be, maybe, but I’m much more like Henry: indecisive and insecure (and happiest in a bookstore). Henry spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself, but I wasn’t unsympathetic. You can have a lot of advantages – income, supportive family, good friends – and still feel lousy about yourself. Addie is so much stronger than Henry, yet he doesn’t resent her for that.
It’s a love story but a problematic one, because these are two people who need each other perhaps more than they love each other. But it’s beautiful in its own way. More than a romance, this is a story about loneliness and memory and and wanting to make your mark on the world. It’s about power and freedom, strength and beauty. Art and music lovers will particularly appreciate this story. It’s about being seen. And it’s about time.
It’s cliché to say it’s a roller coaster ride, and in fact it moves quite slowly at times. There are scenes in Addie’s timeline where I wanted much more, but then any book that covers 300 years will do that. One of the small things I didn’t love is that Schwab writes Addie into dangerous situations, but her relationship with Luc (the devil) makes it too easy to get out without risk. I liked Schwab’s use of Luc as a character, just felt the author took a few shortcuts. But then there is also the question of Addie’s dependence on Luc, which was interesting.
The audio narrator is very good (I’ve heard Julia Whelan mentioned often as a favorite) and this worked well as an audiobook, but it would also be good as a print read since it would be easier to track the different times and places. Books that jump around in chronology always confuse me a bit, especially with an audiobook, since you have to constantly remind yourself what year you’re in. But for the most part the story is fairly linear, it’s just told in two different timelines.
Schwab has taken a classic story (deal with the devil, immortality) and given it a great twist. More importantly she tells a fantastic story about characters I loved. I didn’t want to miss a minute.