Book review – The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue by V.E. Schwab

What happens when a headstrong girl with a devil-may-care attitude not only manages to draw the attention of a devil-like being but also strikes a clever bargain: eternal youth as in…will look and feel no older than 23 and immortality in return for her soul that she has to willingly handover only when she grows tired of living?! Now how does the dark god force this girl so full of life and completely in love with herself to surrender. He can only attempt by introducing uncomfortable terms and conditions in the fine print of the deal ofcourse and relentlessly try to break her spirit.

While the girl regrets not having stated the wish more crisply to avoid manipulative terms in the deal and the accompanying curse, she does not for one moment regret having struck the deal. For her the joy of living, discovering, experiencing and learning far outweigh the suffering and pain of anonymity, heartaches and not being able to leave a legacy or any sort of impression about her existence. Instead of mopping around in misery she enthusiastically sets about looking for loopholes in the unnamed ambiguous terms and conditions to turn the deal entirely in her favour.

Thus ensues an engaging battle of wits between the devil-like entity and the girl, the devil trying to push and shove the girl to the edge while she defiantly resists, not giving in.

Three centuries later she crosses paths with a boy whose character is on other end of the spectrum when compared to hers and he seems to have bypassed her curse and remembers her, marking an interesting turn in the story that spins and spirals to a remarkable and flawless conclusion.

An unforgettable and intensely charming novel brimming with adventure, suspense and romance that compels you to keep reading without a break from start to finish. A thoroughly satisfying read.

In 1714, in a small French village, Adeline a strong-willed and passionate young woman, in an act of desperation strikes a Faustian deal with a non-human powerful creature of the night. A masculine supernatural entity that seems be the very personification of the deep dark woods, smoke and shadows.

Fleeing from an arranged wedding with a widower and a perceived life of drudgery and boredom, she sprints into the forest depths.

She recalls the advice and practices of Estele, a self-styled independent elderly single woman she admires, looks up to and tries to emulate. Estele who prays to the old gods and warns her about calling upon the gods that answer after dark. It is a warning that Adeline carefully heeds to.

Even as the voices of the search party from the village draw closer, struck by utter despair Adeline attempts to summon an old god to grant her a life untethered and unbound by the limitations, vagaries of time and not weighed down by mundane responsibilities or expectations. One to be lived and relished on her own terms. Too late she realises the dusk had given way to the night, and a god of dark materialises taking the form of her imaginary dream partner ‘Luc’, to answer her plea. But at a steep price. Her wish is granted on the condition that she would surrender her soul to him once she is tired of living and ready to part with it.

And as such dubious deals go, it surely comes with an uncomfortable catch and unexpected twists. While the deal lends her immortality and never-ending youth, it also makes her forgettable. Literally. So that she is erased from people’s memories the moment she goes out of their sights though her own memories since that moment in the forest, stay vivid and sharp. And nor can she leave any impression behind or own any possessions except the clothing she wears. Anything she draws, writes or for that matter anything she creates or even foot prints left on the ground are erased the moment she takes the next step. To the extent that she cannot even utter her own name or talk about the deal. She is forced to live in the present at all times and cannot hold on to any belongings or find a permanent shelter.
She is compelled to resort to a life of stealing to sustain herself through the years, for she is still afflicted by mortal hunger, pain and emotions, though starvation and self-healing wounds cannot kill her.
She travels through three hundred years, marked by eclectic experiences, sights and ofcourse intellectual and romantic affairs with men and woman. Every relationship she enters into is freshly forged during the day, only to be wiped clean by the following morning. This leads to her engaging with the same set of men and women she favours, over several days, in a similar vein as the movie Groundhogs day. She sweeps through major historical milestones, spanning continents, observing cities rise and fall, technological advancements, revolutions and wars and the progression of art over the ages…with an emphasis on art and beauty. For she is a connoisseur of art. An attribute she shares with the mysterious god, who takes on the name of Luc. In parallel ensues the dark and delightful game of wits with the devilish god of darkness with a sadistic edge, who seems to stalk her, test her, throwing challenges her way, trying to make her feel weary enough about her life, to give it up willingly. But for Adeline, a wanderer and explorer at heart, her irrepressible love for living far outweighs the curse of anonymity and the pain and heartaches that accompany her boon. With every visit from the moody dark god over the years when he baits her and tries to convince her to give in to his whims and surrender her life, her dysfunctional and complicated connect with him grows into something more. It bears faint echoes of the relationship between Vasya and Morozko in The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden and a rather eerie and mild resemblance to the Savitri, Satyavan story from Indian mythology .
Defiant and sharp Adeline looks for ways around the curse to cleverly leave her mark, legacy in the world even as the god of night tries to break her spirit and make her yield.

That is till 2014 when she meets a boy, a bookseller in New York City who not only catches her stealing a book but actually remembers her even after letting her out of his sight and seeing her again. Intrigued and startled she begins hanging-out with him creating enchanting memories centered around art, music, food and entertainment. But the strangely charismatic boy called Henry who bears a resemblance to Luc, harbours a secret of his own.
Even as her relationship with Henry expands into something meaningful and deep, the story takes an interesting turn leading to an apt conclusion.

The non-linear narrative that expertly weaves back and forth through the multiples timelines, carries the reader on a grand and memorable adventure filled with suspense and darkly satisfying romance.
Every line is brilliantly and wickedly crafted, stimulating the reader’s mind and making the imagination soar. The characters are realistically sculpted, each with their generous share of flaws and complex personalities.
The evocative descriptions, the mixing of history and fantasy, the vivid character sketches, the engaging dialogues and haunting storyline make for a compulsive read.

Some quotes from the book that continue to linger

‘But this is how you walk to the end of the world. This is how you live forever. Here is one day, and here is the next, and the next, and you take what you can, savor every stolen second, cling to every moment, until it’s gone.’

‘Three hundred years, and there are still new things to learn.’

‘…time always ends a second before you’re ready. That life is the minutes you want minus one’

‘Adeline has decided she would rather be a tree, like Estele. If she must grow roots, she would rather be left to flourish wild instead of pruned, would rather stand alone, allowed to grow beneath the open sky.’

‘And when she does look up, her gaze always goes to the edge of town.
“A dreamer,” scorns her mother.
“A dreamer,” mourns her father.
“A dreamer,” warns Estele.
Still, it does not seem such a bad word.
Until Adeline wakes up.’

‘Humans are capable of such wondrous things. Of cruelty, and war, but also art and invention. She will think this again and again over the years, when bombs are dropped, and buildings felled, when terror consumes whole countries. But also when the first images are impressed on film, when planes rise into the air, when movies go from black-and-white to color.’

‘Her shadow stretches out ahead – too long, its edges already blurring – and small white flowers tumble from her hair, littering the ground like stars. A constellation left in her wake, almost like the one across her cheeks.

Seven freckles. One for every love she’d have, that’s what Estele had said, when the girl was still young.
One for every life she’d lead.
One for every god watching over her.

Now they mock her, those seven marks. Promises. Lies. She’s had no loves, she’s lived no lives, she’s met no gods, and now she is out of time.’

‘Ideas are wilder than memories. And I can be wild. I can be stubborn as the weeds, and you will not root me out. And I think you are glad of it. ‘

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s