I was terrified of this book. I know — crazy. What’s to fear about ink on a page? It’s just a book, right? Except nothing’s just a book now in the book community. Nothing is as simple now as a story, a cast of beloved characters, a downpour of emotions. Now, there are cultures and fanbases. Fans of popular authors have formed a cult-like loyalty to them, everyone else a piranha.
THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE is my next adult novel. It’s a stand-alone about a girl who makes a deal with the devil to live forever, only to end up forgotten by everyone she meets. Out next Fall. https://t.co/mMesIdhqYb
— Victoria/V.E. Schwab (@veschwab) August 29, 2019
When I saw the uproar surrounding The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, the hairs rose on my arms, static rising in the air. The nebulous clouds gathered in the horizon. And each day I waited to read it, the palace of clouds condensed and darkened with moisture above me, a looming anvil. Recently, I finally caved in. The storm broke.
Unfortunately, there was no rainbow on the other side, only sad, sodden disappointment. Convinced there must be something defunct in my reading sense, I scoured the internet, finding only dregs of people with the same thoughts as me — rest assured, I believe there are more out there, reluctant to provoke the wrath of Schwab’s die-hards. But while I was terrified to read the book, I’m not terrified to share my opinion.
Here is why I didn’t like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
I admit, I came into this book with wildly different expectations than how it turned out to be. But who can blame me? The description of the novel hinted at an adventurous, globe-trotting saga of a girl living throughout the ages — gritty, intense, lush. A lover of history, I anticipated living vicariously through Addie’s eyes as she participated in world-defying movements and wars.
But that demands character with flare and dynamism, and Addie lacked dimension. She was the epitome of the trite “I’m not like other girls” trope — obviously, she wasn’t like any other human at all, and I could accept her loneliness, her detachment from humanity, if she found ways to persevere. Instead, she came off as self-pitying and laughably defiant towards Luc, the “devil” who cursed her.
THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE was the most disappointing book I read this year. I’m tired of reading about centuries of existence that’s devoid of BIPOC presence. Read more of my thoughts here: https://t.co/VnutEwulHm pic.twitter.com/QzHdBbHHQc
— aentee 🌙 no peak clan + poppy army (@readatmidnight) October 21, 2020
The beginning of the book started off promising — Addie was a strong-spirited, small-town girl who longed for independence, and who made a mistake. When her friend and her parents could no longer remember her, my heart clenched. But my empathy faded away as the next three hundred years of her life droned on in the same cycle, each day falling in love with an artist or a writer or a musician, sparring verbally with Luc and mourning over her seven freckles. She seemed defined by how forgettable she was, rather than ever carving out her own identity.
Then, Henry entered the scene — a brooding, moody employee at a bookstore who felt lost and misunderstood by everyone around him. Sound familiar? Both he and Addie were so bland, so similar, that the romance between them was like trying to coax fire from damp kindling. The energy, the chemistry, just wasn’t there, and I slogged through their relationship with heavy lids. Moreover, the relationship was contradictory: Henry viewed Addie as some miraculous, dainty nymph, yet Addie had only ever seen herself as cunning and headstrong.
Honestly, it seemed like all three of us were on different pages, and we never did find each other.
A character-driven piece, the plot itself was threadbare. I understand Schwab’s intentions to craft a literary masterpiece, profound and atmospheric. Her prose, certainly, was a success, and the only reason I made it through. But style is not enough without substance.
This material brimmed with raw potential. Addie could have explored so much more, visited places in Asia or Africa, but instead she just stuck to Europe and North America. Schwab could have given Henry depth, rather than characterizing him purely by his mental health struggles and writing Addie as his savior — there was no personal reckoning on his part, none of the true toil it takes to overcome depression. I cannot say whether Schwab was inserting her own experiences into Henry’s story. What I can say is that his “healing” felt rushed and incomplete, lacking any growth.
The ending, where Henry writes Addie’s life in a book titled — surprise, surprise — The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, was the gimmick on top of hundreds and hundreds of pages of forced quirkiness.
Overall, I’m sorry to say that this was a miss for me. I have no hard feelings against mystical realism or character-driven pieces, but they run a high risk of losing the reader in a meandering path of woolgathering. Addie’s was a life no one remembered — and certainly, a story I won’t be remembering.
If you’re looking for another read similar to Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but much better executed, I’d recommend Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu.
Photo Courtesy of Tor Books/Slate