By Kendall Tamer
BU News Service
Though V.E. Schwab has been a New York Times bestselling author before for works like the “Darker Shades of Magic” trilogy, her latest novel has appeared on The New Yorker Times’s Best Seller list for 3 weeks in a row now. The success of this latest work has launched it — and Schwab — into the mainstream, and she was offered a Hollywood movie deal with Studio eOne before the book had even been officially released.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” has taken all the best aspects of Schwab’s previous works and combined them into what seems to be her best work yet. Schwab has written with every aspect of a modern day fairytale: romance, magic and curses and, on a deeper level, morals and personal lessons for the reader.
The story begins with a girl, Adeline LaRue, in the year 1714. Adeline is running for her life. She’s also running to escape a fate worse than death: an inevitably mundane existence. In her desperation to see the world, to amount to more than turned earth in her family’s grave plot, Adeline makes a deal with “the darkness,” a demon that lurks in the night. She will live forever, unaffected by the elements, hunger, thirst, or even time. However, as is the case with most deals with devils, there are strings attached.
No one will remember her. Not even her own parents or her longtime friend and mentor, Estelle.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” is reminiscent of works like “The Time Traveller’s Wife” or “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and echoes with Faustian notes. It takes familiar themes that could be viewed as tired, like society’s innate fascination with mortality and the obsession with eternal youth, and spins them in inventive new ways.
The overarching narrative is delivered through individual chapters, which Schwab uses to jump the readers through time. Each chapter begins with the date and the location and is crafted like a small story within itself, at times feeling almost like a collection of fables.
Adeline soon leaves her hometown of Villon, France, despite not yet knowing the full extent of her curse, and embarks down her new path. So does the reader, experiencing every color, sound and taste right alongside her. As Addie goes from Paris to Venice to Munich to New York City, Schwab uses a narrative threaded almost like poetry to carry us through each moment in such vivid detail that we are transported into the soft summer days and the loud, dimly lit dive bars.
“The whole tunnel vibrates with the force of the bass, the reverb of chords against stone. Spotlights pulse blue white, a strobe reducing the hidden club to still frames; a writhing crowd, bodies bouncing to the beat; a pair of musicians wielding matching guitars on a concrete stage; a row of bartenders caught mid-pour.”
These immersive, elegant descriptions of crowded clubs and cozy bookstores are the perfect salve amidst the pandemic where everyone has been social distancing at home and desperate for the hum of human contact.
Addie winds through history, experiencing the plague and the French Revolution. She lives her life in brief interactions and gentle impressions. She tests and learns the full stipulations of her agreement, which she comes to feel is a curse. She feels pain, but it never kills her. She falls in love, but it can never last. But though she can create nothing, she can build off of something else.
And as the darkness or Luc as she refers to him, tells her, “Ideas are so much wilder than memories.”
Addie leaves ghostly ideas in her wake like breadcrumbs, impermanent but haunting. Traces of her inspire paintings, sculptures and music, which are strung throughout the book. The novel is split into sections, each one starting with what is meant to be a document about a piece of art, with brief descriptions about them and alluding to a mysterious woman the creators can’t seem to remember.
But, despite that, Addie can never truly be known. For centuries, to everyone she meets, no matter how many times that might be, she is a stranger. Until one day she isn’t.
It is the year 2014, and after having pilfered a copy of The Odyssey from an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, our heroine returns to the scene of the crime to strike again. Henry Strauss, the sensitive storm cloud of a young man charged with running the shop, is less than pleased to see her again after catching her red-handed the first time. That is when he says the three words she’s been longing to hear for 300 years, the three words that change everything.
“I remember you,” he said.
But how? How can Henry possibly remember her when no one else ever has?
The fairytale feel is not unfamiliar to Schwab. Her debut novel, “The Near Witch,” bears quite a few similarities with her latest work, using love and magic as devices to tell a larger story about the nature of people. In fact, magic is present in almost all of her stories, though “The Near Witch” is the only one of them that could be classified as a love story or a fairytale. “The Darker Shade of Magic” trilogy is more of high fantasy, paralleling writers like Tolkien, or, more recently, Brandon Sanderson. These novels, and many of Schwab’s past novels, take place in worlds of her own design.
She diverts from this in “Addie LaRue,” an urban fantasy setting that can be credited in part for its success. It creates a more relatable or approachable playing field for the average reader or someone who may not otherwise pick up one of her books. The only other works of Schwab to replicate this setting are her Villains series. However, these subversive superhero novels lack the same charm as their successor. They’re grittier and less whimsical. It is only through the marriage of all of these elements that Schwab was able to create her newest work — which now holds a highly coveted spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list for hardcover fiction.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” stands as a modern-day fairytale, but also a cautionary tale for anyone who has ever yearned for more in life, whether that be love, adventure or freedom. The main protagonists, Addie and Henry, whose points of view alternate throughout, are both so human and empathetic, even surrounded by magical circumstances. Amidst spells and enchantments, they are plagued with the same flaws, desires, and questions we all face almost every day. What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be remembered? What does it mean to be loved?