Arts and Entertainment

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue”: An Artistic Portrayal of Self Love

A book review of “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab, a portrait of the timeless struggle of finding value in your life and making an impact on the course of history.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“A voice rises like smoke inside her chest.

Never pray to the gods who answer after dark.”

The fragile grass parts in a halo at her feet, and her hazel strands of hair shine golden against the dying sun, the last remaining glow of dusk bleeding into darkness. In the midst, she hears the clamor of clanging pots and pans from her small wooden village, which has served as both her home and prison for all these years. The girl is kneeling, murmuring under her breath, moving lips pressed against a wooden ring, and praying for an escape, a miracle. As the shadows from the hanging branches of the forest grow lean against the moonlight, an apparition appears and holds out his hand to her.

At this crossroad, she takes his hand, and her ring disintegrates. In that moment, she loses her father’s carpentry, her prized possession, her past, and her name, all for the chance to live out her future.

This is the premise of “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V. E. Schwab, reminiscent of a Faustian tale—a bargain made with the devil in exchange for one’s soul. Told through a series of flashbacks, the story integrates Addie’s past memories into the present, building on the initial air of ambiguity and loneliness that permeates all aspects of her life. Though the novel starts in the present, Addie’s story begins in 1714 Villon-sur-Sarthe, a village on the outskirts of Paris. It’s in these memories where the reader first glimpses her unbridled spirit, her love for her father’s vibrant storytelling on their trips to the city, and the rampant growth of her imagination, haphazard and beautiful. Her soul is most profoundly expressed through her charcoal sketches, their emotional nuance only amplified through Schwab’s lush prose. As Addie grows older and is increasingly restricted by the expectation to marry, the listlessness and desperation she feels toward her future strike a chord with the reader, successfully executing a profound take on an otherwise cliché premise.

Desperate to escape the life of a housewife, Addie runs away to the forest on the day of her wedding, unwilling to conform to expectations at the cost of sacrificing her dreams and identity. Her view is undoubtedly feminist, powerful in its resolution but tragic in execution. In her distress, Addie tells the darkness to make her belong to no one and grant her immortality, until she willingly gives up her soul. Hence, in an effort to make Adeline promptly relinquish her soul, the darkness removes her from the memories of the people from her village, preventing anyone from remembering her for more than a few moments. Addie soon realizes the difference between being independent and belonging to no one and resigns herself to an unmoored yet isolated life.

Belonging to nothing, Addie is unable to alter her surroundings, with any attempts at writing and art fading away at her fingertips. And when Addie tries to say her name, it gets lodged in her throat, a byproduct of the curse. So she trades names and identities like coats, not even able to maintain a semblance of her past life. She finds, however, that she can act as a muse and lover for painters, musicians, photographers, and writers, leaving evidence of her existence by planting ideas or images into their minds during the temporary moments they share. As these works cannot record her face, the seven freckles that dot her face most commonly manifest as constellations, a motif and allusion to the use of stars in Greek mythology to immortalize and remember their heroes.

Though this concept is intriguing, Addie’s cycles through different lovers become repetitive, with only the first few standing out for their distinctive characters. Addie’s lovers exist for the sole purpose of her character development, and through her accounts of Remy, a young Parisian philosopher, and Sam, a female painter, the reader witnesses Addie experience love in increments. With Remy, she falls in love with his intelligence and regard for women as equals, while with Sam, she is attracted to her warmth. As the cycles continue, however, instead of experiencing a more vibrant form of love, Addie’s relationships only grow more distant and dull, overwhelming the reader with a sense of numbness. Addie’s first partners undoubtedly had the potential to develop into memorable characters but fade into the background as the novel progresses. This is further demonstrated by the male protagonist, Henry, a photographer and owner of a small bookshop. From the start, Henry is the only person to truly remember Addie since the day she was cursed, which is the storybook premise for a fated romantic interest. Their encounter should’ve been a turning point of the novel, when the two timelines of the past and present intersect, and Addie finally experiences love fully. Instead, Henry is almost a repeat of the pattern, only exceptional because he can remember Addie. Despite Schwab’s effort to craft a connection between the characters through her metaphors and lush prose, there is a lack of familiarity in their conversations and interactions, and it becomes clear that shared curses and mannerisms are not enough to drive a romance.

Perhaps in this way, “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” presents an unromanticized version of love, secondary to finding and loving who you are as a person. Addie and Henry’s relationship serves as the backdrop to their personal growth, with Henry’s struggle to be accepted by society and his family particularly striking. With moving sensitivity, Schwab describes Henry’s depression as dark storms that emerge without warning and engulf clear skies and rays of the sun, figuratively depicting his struggle to find his identity in those brighter moments.

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” is, at its core, a love letter to the different forms of artistic expression, a self-reflection of one’s impact on the course of history and how to find your own identity within the mix. It is at times heart wrenching and delicate, encapsulating loneliness and the desire for emotional connection with a personal nuance. Though the course of the story may slow at times, the novel remains universally resonant with its readers, a narrative of autonomy separate from gender limitations, and the struggle to make a mark on society. After the countless paintings illuminated by seven stars, blurry photographs, and music that seemed to have composed itself, it is only fitting that Henry publishes Addie’s life story in a leather-bound cover, her first piece of work with her name emblazoned on the front. In golden ink, the letters spell “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” the book you, the reader, are holding in your hands.