Blink and the years fall away like leaves.
— Addie, “Invisible Life of Addie La Rue”
After the past year, the phrase “these unprecedented times” and the nonstop messages of “we will get through this” have become, quite frankly, annoying. Yes, we know that pandemics are unpredictable, but these seemingly heartfelt remarks are constant reminders of our complete lack of control. They prompt us to question if our life and our time serve any greater purpose.
Now, imagine if you have all the time in the world and a never-ending life. How would you spend your life? How would you use your time? “The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue,” a book by V.E. Schwab, follows the story of Addie and her 300-year struggle to “be remembered” and define her legacy. Desperate to escape a mundane, passionless existence in 1700s France, a young and naive Addie makes a deal with a dark, mysterious god for freedom and time. No deal, however, comes without a price. Though Addie will live forever, no one will remember her.
Soon after making her deal, Addie realizes that her life is meaningless without anyone to remember her. She cleverly finds a way to leave behind a legacy, influencing artists and their works. These artists attempt to illustrate and bring to life a mysterious female presence whom they can’t quite put their finger on. Of course, art is timeless, everlasting pieces of culture and conversation.
So, Addie goes through the years, living as a ghost and spending her nights with lovers, only for them to forget her in the morning. She whispers into the souls of artists, writers and musicians, causing them to embody her in their work. She lives like this until she meets Henry, who remembers her.
Her entanglement with Henry is a beautiful love story — a boy and girl who find what they long for in each other. Henry’s history is tumultuous, highlighting the contrast between love and validation. He struggles to find emotional balance and satisfaction with his friendships, family and romantic partners, going through life without a solid anchor or purpose. When he meets Addie, he is able to journey towards emotional balance, learning what satisfaction and contentment with one’s self truly entails. For Addie, she is finally able to find someone who remembers her for everything she is. For a moment, everything is perfect, our characters living in bliss. Then, things go awry and Addie has to make a difficult decision. The ending leaves readers guessing and questioning if what they read was a love story, or something else.
Having read some of V.E. Schwab’s previous works, I was confused by the focus on emotional character exploration and the “coming of age” vibe to the chapters leading up to the climax. “A Darker Shade of Magic” and her other series attempt to analyze themes such as morality, justice and human desires. But it all clicked when I read the last chapter. The ending reaffirmed Schwab’s trademark style and changed my interpretation of the book drastically.
The prose is full of figurative language and allegories. The flowery descriptions are so vivid, you can see the years falling like leaves. I was very suspicious of the writing, however, almost as if the author specifically chose to write so elegantly to give readers the wrong impression. If you look past the allure of the language, you might uncover a different story.
Addie sought to leave a legacy for herself, for people to remember her name. She took the company of artists, writers and musicians at night, letting them immortalize her in their art. When the fog clears, I see a character struggling between validation in the eyes of others and oneself. Like the language, art is often used as a symbol of the more alluring attractions and superficial desires of the world. Addie chose to create her legacy through superficial means.
When she finally does meet someone who remembers her, the emotional journey that ensues results in character growth for one, but does it change the other? Is her sacrifice selfless, or to further her whim? I was left wondering if her relationship with Henry was truly selfless or powered by ulterior motives. Is Henry’s role in her story deliberate? And is the ending hopeful, or is she giving into the darkness? The end of the novel had me questioning if Addie was truly innocent to how human interactions and emotions work, or if she was a master conspirator in an age-old revenge plot against the dark god she made a deal with.
It’s easy to misconstrue what it means to leave a legacy (even if you are an immortal being) by interpreting it to mean to use one’s time wisely, to be remembered. Finding contentment through accepting yourself as you are is extremely difficult and even more so for Addie. The desire to be someone worthy of praise and remembrance in the eyes of others is tempting, and I don’t blame Addie for seeking out ways to leave a legacy in a world where she could never be given the chance to find such contentment. Humans are always subject to our selfish desires and whims, and we are so rarely able to find contentment. At the very least, Addie was able to help others find themselves, especially Henry.
Maybe Addie did what she did to regain control of her own life, of accepting herself, no matter who gets in her way. Maybe she truly did love all her partners, and the artwork was a symbol of her passion for them.
Although I have interpreted this book to be a commentary on human desires and whims, there are, of course, multitudes of interpretations. There are far more components to “The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue” that warrant discussion. If I could, I would talk about this book for hours.
In the end, I greatly enjoyed reading Addie’s thrilling story. I came to appreciate her character and personality. The release of the book comes at a time where many of us are realizing the gravity of time, and face questions on how to use time wisely. The author spent a decade writing and perfecting this story, and her dedication is apparent in every page, every word. The prose is vivid, painting a bright picture with every line. The characters are diverse and complex, each in their own right. The themes discussed are vast — legacy, time and desire.
But, time is fleeting, and so I leave you with this:
She does not know if it was love, or simply a reprieve. If contentment can compete with passion, if warmth will ever be as strong as heat.
But it was a gift.
Not a game, or a war, not a battle of wills.
Just a gift.
Time, and memory, like lovers in a fable.
— Addie, “Invisible Life of Addie La Rue”
Daily Arts Contributor Zoha Khan can be reached at email@example.com.