“Never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”—V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Would you ever make a deal with the devil? While you may hope desperation never forces your hand, Addie of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is not so lucky. Rapt with beauty, this novel imagines a world beyond kindness. After all, what more would you expect from the devil?
Some might mistake immortality for a dream come true but for Adeline LaRue immortality is agony at its worst. On a reckless night in 1714, Addie signs away her soul to the devil, Luc. Initially desperate to be free from an arranged marriage she soon realizes this price is one too steep to pay. Addie becomes immortal, but no-one she meets can remember her. Despite the devil’s constant nipping at her heels, Addie lives for centuries, melting into seas of faces. That is until she meets a man named Henry in a dusty New York bookshop. For the first time in centuries, somebody remembers her.
Endlessly praised by bibliophiles on TikTok (or BookTok), this novel rose to popularity among young adults with many claiming it to be the next The Fault in Our Stars. In other words, the next YA romance sensation. Many also said that it perfectly tied up philosophical themes of existentialism and free will with romance and adventure in a big, pretty bow. Unfortunately the weight of its expectations sank this novel. Instead of soaring high it fell rather flat for me.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue starts off with a shaky stride. Because of the plot’s primary focus on Addie’s invisibility, the novel introduces multiple characters that flit in and out of the story; these include Addie’s string of lovers as well every single person she meets for 300 years. The result is a plethora of underbaked characters, introduced but not developed, mentioned across three pages and then never to be heard of again. Because of this, keeping track of important characters proved to be a challenge. Schwab feeds the reader an ever-growing list of people that act as surface ornaments with no real stake in Addie’s life of centuries. While it is effective in emphasizing Addie’s insignificance, it makes for a slightly confusing and dissatisfying reading experience.
Schwab’s pacing within the first half of the novel also earned another strike from me. She takes her time in setting up the narrative—portraying the deadly dance of predator and prey between Addie and Luc—before the true climax of the novel. The slow burn was likely meant to be hot and heavy but felt instead like Schwab was stumbling, taking longer than needed to get to her destination. The intensity of Addie and Luc’s relationship was decadently electrifying at many points and spoke to a complex romantic relationship beneath the surface of the devil and his deal. However, because of the way each interaction seemed to follow the same cat-and-mouse pattern, the anticipation it initially built soon grew stale.
Schwab also centers the portrayals of Luc and Henry around the female gaze, curating the main male characters’ aesthetics to match the “female ideal” of the perfect romantic interest. “The voice spills from a perfect pair of lips, a shadow revealing emerald eyes that dance below black brows, and black hair that curls across his forehead,” is a sampling of Schwab’s descriptions of the mysterious Luc. Unfortunately, this female gaze is nothing but painfully eurocentric, a form of white washing that by today’s standards is less tasteful than it is stale.
Overall, I found that The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue failed the test of time. Reading a novel from 2014—a time where Wattpad fanfictions were laden with tall, brooding boys with dark hair and green eyes—in 2021 felt outdated. It serves an expired archetype of the male love interest, which makes for a less immersive experience for diverse readers. Additionally, Luc’s character was all shine and no substance. With heavy emphasis on the brooding “allure” of his physical appearance and close to no insight into his own life and motivations, it is hard to find something to appreciate. The handsome, charming devil persona drives his relationship with Addie. When readers are unable to find the appeal in Luc’s allure, their chemistry simply falls flat.
Yet, with the lows do come the highs of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This novel triumphs in its language. Schwab’s lyrical hand made it an indulgence of the arts despite its faults. She writes like poetry: “Day breaks like an egg yolk, spilling light across the field.” The places Addie drifts to and away from in her 300 years of living erupt like bursts of color and prove to be an imaginary visual feast. With scenic views of European cities and French farms, Schwab’s ability to bring details to life is an adventure in itself. From southern France to bustling New York, images of busy streets and night skies dance across the pages to the tune of Schwab’s language.
Not only that, Schwab’s writing is perhaps the most effective vessel that conveys Addie’s pain, the way that “she longs for the mornings, but she settles for the nights.” Through Schwab’s baring of Addie’s soul, I’ve come to understand that Addie is not unlike Tantalus of Greek mythology. In the same way that Tantalus is tortured each day with the possibility of food only to have it forever elude his grasp, Addie’s mirage of a real connection is draped across her daily in the form of a new lover. But when morning beckons their amnesia, she is reminded that happiness is always out of reach. Indeed, despite her immortality, Schwab’s portrayal of Addie strips her down to her most vulnerable human self.
The little details of the story are what hold it together and Schwab is its master architect. Although the narrative structure of darting between timelines can be tedious, there is beauty in the pattern of details. For instance, Addie’s fondness for chocolate is revealed at the end of a chapter set in New York, and the following chapter opens with Addie discovering chocolate for the first time in France 200 years ago. Just when you feel lost between paragraphs the connecting details pull you back. In essence, reading this novel is like taking a leap of faith in every step, and your foot finds sure footing each time.
While The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue delivered intrigue, the novel simply did not live up to its skyscraping expectations. It triumphed in its beautiful language but upon closer inspection, the cracks in this book dispelled its almost gospel status. Nevertheless, descending into the world of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is still a wonderful way to pass the weekend.
Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including the acclaimed novel The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, the Shades of Magic series, Villains series, This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured in the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Post and more, translated into more than a dozen languages, and has been optioned for television and film. When she’s not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, she lives in Edinburgh, Scotland and is usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue can be purchased here.