Review: V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Buckle up. I want to talk about a BookTok/ BookTwitter/ BookStagram favorite.
So I’m a Victoria V.E. Schwab fan. After meeting her at a signing in Nashville back in like 2012, she became an always-buy for me, and I have first edition copies of all her books. I interviewed her at San Diego Comic-Con, hung out at a couple parties, etc. I like her and I like her books.
But something about me is that I am incredibly contrary. It’s just how I’m wired. And when books get a lot of hype, immediately it diminishes what potentially could be my enjoyment of them. I don’t like this about myself; it’s a major character flaw. And it has NOTHING – I repeat, not a thing – to do with the books. It’s 100% about how I read and enjoy a piece of media. Hype tends to push a book farther down my to-be-read list, and I tend to judge hyped books with a harsher eye.
I only mention it because it’s the reason I’m bringing you this review so damn late. I’ve had The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue on my shelf since the day it came out. And I just finished reading it yesterday. What did I tell you? Contrary.
But waiting to read it gave me kind of an interesting perspective because I have seen the myriad reactions and conversations around this book, loving it, hating it and those not sure what they think about it.
So here’s what I think about it.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
This book feels very much like Schwab’s own voice coming through. Like if she was writing a novel for herself only, this is what she would write. The balance of prose to plot leans heavily on the atmospherics and the literary devices and less on the plot points that move us along. That makes the first part of Addie LaRue move fairly slow, more like a character study whose inciting incident – when she meets Henry – happens too far into the novel. (I’m sure there is a good argument that the inciting incident is with Addie and The Darkness, and therefore happens very early on, but I would disagree. I think that is simply the soup that our story is settling in.)
While I found the past to present flip through style and the atmospheric writing sometimes tedious, I did appreciate it for its craft. There are some really potent lines and beautifully written sequences in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. One of the first that stood out to me was this triplicate:
“A dreamer,” scorns her mother.
“A dreamer,” mourns her father.
“A dreamer,” warns Estele.
Still, it does not seem such a bad word.
And this one from Henry’s POV, which is actual poetry:
Take a drink every time you hear you’re not enough.
Not the right fit.
Not the right look.
Not the right focus.
Not the right drive.
Not the right time.
Not the right job.
Not the right path.
Not the right future.
Not the right present.
Not the right you.
There’s just something missing.
What could I have done?
Nothing. It’s just…
(Who you are.)
I didn’t think we were serious.
(You’re just too…
I just don’t see us ending up together.
I met someone.
It’s not you.
Swallow it down.
We’re not on the same page.
We’re not in the same place.
It’s not you.
We can’t help who we fall in love with.
(And who we don’t.)
You’re such a good friend.
You’re going to make the right girl happy.
You deserve better.
Let’s stay friends.
I don’t want to lose you.
It’s not you.
But I would be remiss to not discuss one of the major critiques of this novel, which I saw from several Black, Indigenous and reviewers of color, that it is heavily white, western and euro-centric. I do not disagree, and thank those reviewers for providing that perspective before I ever picked it up. The gist of this argument is that Addie has had 300 years to experience life, to influence art, yet she never visits ventures outside of white western European society or culture. I mean, why the f***? In truth, how? How did she learn every European language and no eastern ones? How is the farthest globally south she traveled in three centuries … Portugal?
What I found most interesting as I came to end of the novel is how heavily it relies on the literary world where Schwab got her start: young adult. Because while there is a lot going on in this novel including the way it deal with memory, intention, legacy and grief, it is hinging on, in the end, a love triangle.
There is the dark, mysterious, otherworldly one for whom our protagonist has complicated feelings, her essence now more akin to his inhuman one than not. And there is the steady, grounded, human man she has fallen in love with. It is The Darkling, Alina and Mal. It is Edward and Bella and Jacob. It is Christian, Clara and Tucker. It is a formula that works.
That coupled with the true quality of Schwab’s craft is why I think The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is deservedly so beloved. It wasn’t all hype.
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).