There’s a generation of book nerds born on the Internet for whom V. E. Schwab is queen. Anyone who’s had a look at Schwab’s Tumblr knows the massive fandom that’s grown up around her YA books, her superhero novel Vicious, and it’s sequel, Vengeful. And, justly so! We’re still waiting on that Vicious movie. However, Schwab isn’t one to rest on her laurels, she’s a fan herself, and in emulation of her own hero, Neil Gaiman, Schwab has released a modern day Gothic romance, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Movie buffs will recall a certain Blake Lively film with a similar title that, honestly, has more similarities than that, but Addie LaRue polishes the concept and presents it in a new, well-crafted light.
From Lucifer to Mephistopholes to Old Scratch, whatever you call him, there’s a shadowy paranormal character who likes to make a deal and in 1714, he strikes a bargain with French country gir0l Adeline LaRue to let her live indefinitely until she agrees to give up and relinquish her soul to him. The catch is that she will never be remembered – the minute she leaves the room she is forgotten – and cannot leave a mark. No writing, no breaking objects, no starting fires. She only leaves a general impression and not a memory, and therefore ghosts through history (just like Blake Lively!) as an artistic muse, living in cities like New York, Paris, New Orleans, London, or Berlin, where culture thrives. Meanwhile, she has only Luc, the founder of her longevity, for company. That is, until aimless nerd Henry recognizes her when she visits his bookstore two days in a row and a romance that seems too good to be true blossoms.
Addie LaRue inspires a kind of beauty in art, literature, and music, often forming relationships with artists across all spectrums that are never remembered, and so she never receives credit for her part in the creation process. Any creator has a team behind them, leaving impressions that are not remembered or credited, and Addie LaRue personifies these unconscious influences. However, she’s not perfect. In the obligatory World War II scene, for example, she needs to beg Luc to bail her out of a Nazi jail when she gets caught smuggling military intelligence. Luc does so because while he’s certainly a modern reinterpretation of classic stock tricksters, he’s not Satan per se. A deity of darkness, sure, but limited to night time usage, and a capable chessmaster, plotting well ahead into the future. And yet, Luc, too loves the arts, as the patron of Beethoven, and later in history, a jazz aficionado. It’s never explained what Luc exactly does with souls, but he demands to be seen as anything but a god who loves petty objects such as wooden or stone idols. Addie, by contrast, craves the ability to hoard such items, but cannot since she can’t leave anything permanent behind such as a house full of stuff. Their dynamic back-and-forth stretches a tug of war across centuries between preservation of art and its creation, in museums, music venues, and of course, bookstores.
The limitations in each side of this conflict’s superpowers create some much needed restraint for the immortal characters that lets them lash out in creative ways. Addie’s paramour, Henry, makes his own impossible deal with Luc, as well, with less-than-perfect results. Henry’s storyline puts the biggest strain on the narrative, since we see him effortlessly get lucky with woman after man after woman, but when it becomes apparent that he’s cursed to be loved but not sincerely, Henry immediately feels trapped in his life. His creative output stagnates and he remains in limbo, seemingly stuck loving no one until he meets Addie. They quickly strike up a romance, which leave both breathlessly content until it’s revealed that Luc engineered their coupling and he’s come to collect on Henry’s soul.
I’ve pretty much run out of ways to reference The Age of Adaline (2015), but luckily I really liked that movie, just as I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. Similarly, trading souls is far from a novel conflict, but Addie LaRue twists her way to a new set of questions involved in the swap and what its effect on art could be. She also poses a set of questions about the things we give up for art. Addie’s story, however, would be nothing without Schwab’s beautiful writing. She could be a poet, if she didn’t like writing novels. Her writing serves as the perfect key to open up the heads of oblique, well-trodden characters and discover new theories about the way they tick.
Overall, this may be the best thing I’ve read published this year.
Four out of five stars.
Page count: 442
Favorite quote: “When they finally collide, it is with the force of bodies kept too long apart.”