A Big5+ review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

r/suggestmeabook: I want a wistful, melancholy stroll through the life of a perpetually young and alone woman.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 442

Publisher: Tor Books

From the publisher: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

I had a hard time reading this book.

No, it has absolutely nothing to do with V.E. Schwab’s writing style, which is some of the most elegant writing I’ve read. She manages the balance between explicit and implicit, decorative and spare in a way that makes her books a pleasure to read. Not only that, her exercise of her craft never makes you feel as though she’s self-conscious of her mastery, like a master cook making a simple classic perfectly (yes, I just finished the season of GBBO).

She will not remember the stories themselves, but will recall the way he tells them; the words feel smooth as rivers stones, and she wonders if he tells these stories when he is alone, if he carries on, talking to Maxine in this easy, gentle way. Wonders if he tells stories to the wood as he is working it. Or if they are just for her.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

No, it wasn’t just the melancholy that pervades much of the book, although that was what I told myself when I broke off and read three other books from when I started The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and when I ended it. Granted, I didn’t realize that The Fifth Season would be such a kick to the solar plexus, and The Salt Fields punched over its weight class, but, even so, neither of these books got under my skin the way The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue did.

The words ache, even as she thinks them, the game giving way to want, a thing too genuine, too dangerous. And so, even in her imagination, she guides the conversation back to safer roads.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The problem was the shape of the melancholy in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. The Fifth Season and The Salt Fields both included tragedies that have touched on my life, and had I known that, I might have avoided them, but those reads were still important for the paths to understanding they offer. However, in both reads, the oppression that girds those stories is one I can get enraged and shamed and indignant about, and rail against the inhumanity that shapes that pain, but it is not a pain that I, in my more privileged status, have often experienced, and certainly not one that shaped me from childhood.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was an extended view of a more personal type of pain, that of the perpetual outsider. It resonated far more with my own psychological pain, and, thus, was much more uncomfortable for me. It’s not an uncommon type of pain among those of us prone to depression. I felt this book like an ache in the bones.

There is a rhythm to moving through the world alone. You discover what you can and cannot live without, the simple necessities and small goys that define a life.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

So as I took up the book for the final siege, at about 80% (thanks for nothing, Kindle) of the way through, Schwab’s skillful foreshadowing kept ratcheting up the tension I don’t usually experience in a non-horror, non-thriller book, a book someone described as “slice-of-life,” a description that doesn’t work for me because I experience those as more impersonal.

I was so tense even talking about it I couldn’t relax enough to turn that prior sentence into shorter ones. I kept taking breaks, checking Twitter and Discord to relieve that tension. How was this story going to resolve in a way I wouldn’t be crushed?

However, my initial response upon finishing the book was “Well played, Ms. Schwab, well played.” Poor endings often have a devastating effect on how you feel about a story; here, the satisfying ending had the effect of retroactively soothing me.

Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives—or to find strength in a very long one.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

Someone on Twitter asked last night “Why do you read?” My response was that it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a mind meld—that it lets you see the world from someone else’s perspective. But the more honest response would be, to paraphrase the words William Nicholson put into the mouth of C.S. Lewis, I read to know I’m not alone.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue did not give me that in the same way, because I over-identified with the theme of the perpetual outsider. But it gave me something else: a heroine with courage and intelligence, someone that a perpetual outsider can look at with admiration. Someone that gives you hope.

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