Audiobook Review: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Title: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Author: Victoria Schwab

Series? No.

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Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wished for unfettered freedom, a life completely her own, untethered to time and space and people. While many books may explore the journey to achieve such a wish, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE instead examines the consequences and the prices paid. Addie’s memorable journey is a clear defiance to her curse to a fault. In its single-minded pursuit to capture the life of Addie Larue, this book neglected to acknowledge the existence of marginalised communities who were erased not through Faustian bargains, but by colonialism, classism, and white supremacy. Addie’s story is fixated on her own legacy, yet her narrative is one that conveniently forgets the people history would rather leave unremembered.

Addie Larue’s intractable desire for freedom resulted in centuries lived on the margin of society, the inability to utter her own name, and the loneliness of belonging to no one but yourself. Her only marks on the world are ones left by a ghost, a forgotten muse, an unnamed thought. She voraciously take refuge in stories, seeking out narrative to replace her own tale devoid of ending and permanence – she sought for company in the pages of dusty books, between the notes of forgotten songs, on screens in darkened cinema theatres. It’s a compelling start to the novel, the image of a forgettable immortal, literally hell-bent on leaving traces of her story through the visions of artists through the centuries.

Where Addie Larue excelled was in Schwab’s lyrical and distinctive prose, effortlessly capturing the weight of centuries in a few sentences. When coupled with Julie Whelan’s (yes, the same person who brought Evelyn Hugo to life) audiobook narration, a voice which lent emotion to each polished phrase, the result is unparalleled. I loved that Whelan’s accent for Addie changed with the passage of time, gradually losing her country French lilt as she ventures further from the girl she once was. While the book flitted between the past and the present in quick succession, the structure of the story allowed for seamless transition that mimicked the timeless yet repetitious nature of Addie’s existence. In fact, the writing was so mesmerizing that it took me over half the novel to figure out why the book left me feeling uneasy: by its casual but constant omission of BIPOC from Addie’s myopic and white-washed centuries of existence.

Believe it or not, I am not someone who demands that every single novel I read be the paragon of diversity. You may make the argument that while Addie Larue lacked in diverse racial representation, it compensated by the presence of bisexual, pansexual, and neurodiverse protagonists. However, the issue with Addie Larue’s account of history, one devoid of any persons of colour and scrubbed clean of the gristly side of revolutions – is a problem that impact the believability of her story. I can invest in a world where Luc is the Darkness is personified, where a girl painted by stars learn to live through stories in her long centuries. What I classify as poor world-building and characterisation that breaks the illusion of verisimilitude are the following.

Addie Larue’s character is determined to live through all of life’s experiences and relish in the small joys of discovery. She bargained with the Luc for several life times because she wants to explore the world. Yet when the wish is granted, however twisted it may be, Addie Larue is not compelled to venture further than Europe and North America. A backpacker with a tight budget can cover more ground in three months than Addie does in three centuries. Every time Addie Larue closes her eyes and reminisce, a litany of cities passing through her mind like a prayer (or a Top Deck itinerary), she revisits the same places: Milan, Paris, New York, Amsterdam, Madrid. You’re telling me she lived for 300 years and did not want to visit Asia, or Africa, or South America, or the Middle East even once? I understand how that may have been difficult initially, but she lived through the invention of air travel and the commodification of oversea holidays, and she managed to teach herself a long list of languages (yes, all Western languages) – so for her to choose to settle in NYC by 2014? Beyond perplexing and does not align with the rest of her characterisation. There are many possible reasons why Schwab was so reluctant to include other nations in her vision of Addie Larue, but I suspect she’s treading down the well-worn path of many other fantasy writers before her: one that cannot imagine BIPOC culture as a part of their aesthetic and world.

* Note that there is one prominent Black character that appears in this novel, Henry’s best friend, Bea. Who we are told, in explicit wording and no less than five times, is one of the most stunning person Addie has ever seen. I had to chuckle when I read these passages, it’s the literary equivalent of “I’m not racist, my best friend is Black.”

I saw in one of the book tours that Schwab intended this novel to be a homage to the women that history erased. After reading Addie Larue, I can only conclude that by ‘women’, she meant white women. In fact, by women, she only meant women like Addie Larue – who fit into the narrow confines of ‘strong female characters’. The women who appear in Addie’s past remain unnamed or inconsequential to the events which unfold. The way she describe her childhood friend, who chose an ordinary life of domestic bliss, is nothing short of condescending. She describes childbirth as a parasite that drains away Isabelle’s vitality, as soon as the woman has children she is viewed as a withered flower. I know we cannot judge an author from the actions of their characters. Yet we have seen a similar value system from other Schwab female leads, from Lila Bard to Kate Harker, and this line of thinking has never been challenged in any of Schwab’s text – so it’s difficult to believe this is not her general world view. Realising that one of the leading woman writer in SFF can only dream up of one type of female character? Beyond disappointing.

Despite the aforementioned desire to pay respect to the forgotten women of history, the figures that Addie mentions through her centuries of existence are often privileged white men. She name drops Voltaire who she mingled with in Parisian salon, the height of culture and a testament to her desire for education – yet makes no mention of his infamous anti-Semitism and anti-Blackness rhetoric. The book refers to Napoleon Bonaparte, with the Luc praising his ‘ambition’, in contrast to the ‘evil’ that culminated in the World Wars. Yet there are no further introspection on this – no acknowledgement that part of Napoleon’s ambitions included an attempt to invade Egypt, and resulted in the looting of countless cultural artifacts. We are told time and again that Addie Larue has witnessed the uprise and liberation of nations, the ignition and triumphs of revolution – however I get the sense that she remains resolutely untouched. Her sole concern is her eternal dance with the Luc, testing the limits of a metaphorical prison conjured by her curse- with little regard for the literal chains shackling the humans around her.

One of the main threads of Addie Larue is the way Addie uses art to carve out a space in history. She curates her own collection of artists through the years, intent on leaving her mark in paintings and songs. Over time, one of her favourite hobbies is to visit museums and see the traces of herself displayed on walls, an act of resistance to her curse. The art and the artists that are selected are always conspicuously white, the text goes on to describe the way she’s irresistibly drawn to certain talents – an echo of how the Luc is attracted to certain souls: Beethoven, Bonaparte, Joan of Arc. Why is Addie and her devil intent on ignoring BIPOC who existed alongside them through the centuries, many of whom would have burned with the same desire to be recognised in an otherwise cruel and uncaring world?

I understand what this book was trying to achieve, and the reason for its singular focus on Addie’s legacy and the desire to attain recognition and immortality through arts. What I struggled with was how self-absorbed this work was, while reading it I had the subconscious feeling that the book wholeheartedly believe that Addie’s narrative is the only one worth preserving. It’s quite a feat for a protagonist who lived from 1710s to 2010s, one of the most turbulent period in human history, rife with revolution and colonolisation (and she lived in FRANCE, one of the biggest perpetrator of colonisation, I am Vietnamese – it’s not easy for me to overlook this) to remain utterly self-interested. She acted as a spy in a war once, and quickly gave up on that when she realised her immortality did not come with invincibility. The average teenager on twitter these days have more self-awareness and perform more activism than a woman who watched injustices go by for 300 years, I find that faintly embarrassing.

Aside from the issues I had with the text, I truly believed they contributed to the stagnation in Addie Larue by the midway mark. The book felt aimless at times. more concerned with portraying aesthetics and ideas than it was with the execution of the story. I just know that Schwab’s notebook for Addie Larue must have been filled with the phrases like ‘palimpsest’, ‘ideas are more wild than memories’, ‘freckles that trailed her face like a constellation‘, and musings on the mercurial nature of time. These sentences were repeated ad nauseum in the book, not in a way that felt poetically intentional, but with the restricted cadence of a book trapped by its initial vision yet never saw complete fulfilment. In a way, I guess it’s fitting that a book about a girl who is damned from living a full life also feels equally unfinished.

I felt that this book could have been more, it could have aspired to touch more than just Addie Larue’s life. Nonetheless, it remained frustratingly self-satisfied with its selective recollection of the past. Addie Larue is a celebration of art and life – but only in the limited scope of what it can understand as art, and what it counts as a life worth honouring. The marketing hashtag for this book is #IRememberAddie, and how could you not? She left no room for readers to remember anyone else.

42 thoughts on “Audiobook Review: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

  1. Omg, I loved the review! It perfectly captures the flaws of the book. I definitely agree that the best part of the book is its writing and that everything else felt like it was just there to give a shape to her Tumblr quotes. I did enjoy the book because I wasn’t expecting anything so it was nice to read it but it was eye-opening to read about the erasure of BIPOC
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read somewhere that Schwab writes out of order, to the extent where she would type out a whole bunch of sentences and then stitch them together to make it work. I felt that it was especially visible in this book, but I think that’s why I get the sense that her books are filled with memorable quotes but the plot and pacing are often flawed.

      I enjoyed the first half of this book, but as I realised Addie will never leave Europe or the “fashionable” parts of USA, I became really annoyed at everything else in the book 😂

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  2. I completely agree with all the points you made, and super strongly agree on you highlighting the points of Addie travelling to the Europe/States kinda stopped me from being as interested. Also, her style, while lyrical, kinda took me out of the moment when I was reading, and I completely agree when you said the book felt aimless at times.

    Thank you for this review!!

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    1. It really irritated me that whenever she mentioned in non-Western country, like Turkey, she was mentioning it due to food.
      I love lyrical writing so I actually really enjoyed the prose in this book, although some of the imageries made me scratch my head, like that one about the sunlight spilling over the landscape like a golden yolk 😂 made me think I was reading a Homer epic.

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  3. Your review is very insightful and well written! Your points of criticism might have been something I would have missed reading the book, so thank you!
    I haven’t read the book yet, I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive. But I’ve read a tweet a while ago that talked about Addie just traveling Europe and North America and not other continents which already was a bit disappointing to hear since it made the book sound very white-centered. Your review confirmed that and I’m still looking forward to reading it, but now with definitely fewer expectations.

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  4. i was sorta hoping this one would be more inclusive but i guess not 😩 I think i’ll still try it to see what all the buzz is (as a reviewer) but Schwab has always struck me as an author that writes a white feminist character ignorant that they are a white feminist.

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    1. I loved Lila Bard as a character when I read the Shades of Magic series… but I feel like every prominent female she writes is Lila Bard now and it’s getting repetitive. I get sticking to what you know and writing from the heart etc, but I feel her view on feminism hasn’t changed or grown to become more intersectional in years.

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  5. I absolutely adore this review! I completely agree – I kept waiting for Addie to mention a trip to Asia, Africa, literally ANYWHERE other than Europe and America and it never happened?? Like how can you live 300+ years and still stay stuck in the same bubble?? Also, your point about the entire book seeming to be written around an aesthetic is exactly on point, I felt the same. Why are we out here lamenting over crusty white men when we could’ve been sharing the stories of strong, diverse women?? This could have been so much more, smh. Thank you for sharing such a great review!

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  6. What an amazing, insightful review! I have seen a few mixed reviews for this book but none that explained clearly what was wrong with it. Thank you for this!

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  7. aentee! i highly admire this review. thank you so much for pointing out these concerning topics. i have not read the book yet, and now i’m not sure if i still want to; however, i must admit that the first time i read the synopsis of the book, i really thought Addie visited THE WHOLE WORLD in all those 300 years of existence. the synopsis gave me that picture in my mind. now that i know she didn’t, i am really disappointed.

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  8. OMG Aentee the last two lines of this review left me with chills! I’ve seen the hype for this book but haven’t been particularly interested in picking it up because somehow I felt like it’s not that great and that I’d probably find it underwhelming. I was waiting for a review like yours, basically, to point out what’s missing in the book.

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    1. Thank you!! I do have to say this book is very well written and a lot of people love it. It just happened that the issues are personal pet peeves of mine so when I started noticing them I found it difficult to overlook. It has decent bi/pan and MI (specifically depression/substance addiction) rep though.

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  9. This is such a great review, Aentee! Whilst I did love this book a lot, I did find myself wondering why Addie stayed in/around Europe before travelling to the US. For a 300 year existence, she was extremely limited in terms of where she’d gone and I expected more but sadly not. There are also some things in your review that I hadn’t really thought of before so thank you!

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    1. I felt that I was waiting all book to see her POV shift to a non-Western country, but then when she got to the US at the heights of the Civil War and ended up playing house with Luc I gave up. Thank you for reading and being willing to see my points 💖💖

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  10. Love your review, but basically stopped by to tell you that I got a compliment from a tech person on the header you made me for my blog all those years ago. He said it looked very professional. Thanks again! 🙂

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  11. I was looking forward to reading this one (though I may still do so – just with even lowered expectations) but oof, your review is beautiful as it is powerful and it’s something that I’m definitely going to put into consideration before I’d get it. Now I think I may just borrow this book digitally instead of getting a copy because that was one of the many things I was looking forward to. I think this review also made me think about what my own world-building would contain and frankly, how natural it would be to have BIPOC in these fantasy worlds.

    Thank you for this wonderful review!

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    1. It’s a well written book for the most part, I think I just had very different expectations for it. If you go in knowing there’s a lot of introspection and navel gazing you’ll be fine haha.

      I just find any setting that promises to span lifetime and continents, but barely have any BIPOC, to be unbelievable. I think this could have been somewhat avoided by making Addie live say, 100 years instead of 300 years.

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      1. Nah, I understand! I’ve had this writer in my “want to read” list for a while and I did see a lot of hubbub for it, so this review is a good reminder not to always trust the hype!

        And you’re absolutely correct to feel that way. How could one NOT travel in the 300 years outside of North America and Europe? It’s a very important point to make about this and I’m glad I read it, regardless! I’m sorry if it’s coming off weird. ;;

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  12. Great review, I haven’t read this book, but I do have a copy on its way to me. It is disappointing to hear since I thought I would be getting the homage to forgotten people in history. Also, kinda weird that she would want to homage to forgotten woman and then mainly mention males. I am still going to read it because I already paid for it, but I think while I read it I might annotate by add figures from the time period that are not mentioned that might have been good alternatives.

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    1. Addie did remember one woman, Estel who’s the hermit woman that taught her how to pray to the gods. But I felt her remembrance of her was self-serving as well, she’s an aspiration Addie could never reach due to the curse. She also lived an unconventional “I am not like other women” lifestyle… which is fine in itself, but it seems all Schwab and this book is able to commend. Putting a heroine with 21st centuries ideals into the 18th century and passing her off as progressive/ahead of her time will never cease to be laughable. I find it’s lazy characterisation.

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      1. Yeah, that is something that bothers me in general. If a book takes place in the past the characters and such need seem like they are actually in the past. A lot of historical fiction does this and it grinds my gears so much. To me it just says the author didn’t really do any research and just wanted a “cool” setting.

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  13. Those last two lines gave me chills. This is such a brilliant review. I’ve been a fan of Schwab’s previous works, but the last year the allure has worn off a bit and I forgot this book was even coming out this year. The concept of the book sounds great, but it baffles me how Schwab would willingly choose to ignore the history or the lure of travelling beyond the confines of Europe/USA. Why would you even want to restict yourself to those boundaries? Your line of a backpacker being able to travel further in three months was brilliantly accurate. I’m not sure when or if I’ll read this book, but I am disappointed to know that the book aimlessly focuses on aesthetics alone. It’s such a missed opportunity. Love this review. 😀

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    1. Thank you! I think overall it was a beautifully written book. But the way her characterisation doesn’t measure up with what she gets up to in her long life irked me. Because I never got a clear sense from the book whether it was intentionally set up like that, or just a product of incomplete world building. It was all so waffly 😹

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  14. I love this review so much! I’m so sorry it didn’t work for you, but reading this made me feel disappointed and I haven’t even read it 😫 The fact that the main character, who made the bargain because she wanted to explore the world ended up being stuck in her own bubble and painted only the rosy picture of history (all the triumphs and not the cause and costs and upheavals and injustices that happened) are disappointing. I was expecting more. And even though I’ve only read Shades of Magic and Vicious, I can see what you mean by Schwab can only write Lila Bard. I felt the same way when I was reading Vengeful, from the way they went through life feeling untouchable to the ad nauseam repetition of Schwab telling us how brave, not like other girls they are. I was expecting something different here but it seems like it’s another reiteration of Lila Bard here.

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  15. I didn’t finish the book but I agree with you on so many points about the book, her view of her childhood friend’s domestic choice and that despite her 300 years her view point was narrow. This is a well thought out review, I enjoyed reading it.

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  16. Hmmm I’m only half way through the book (Just fyi, I’m black and was interested in discussing my thoughts so far). I read the first half of your review but I will be returning to it because I don’t want to be spoiled. I’m wondering if for at least the first 200-250 years she wouldn’t exactly “blend” in when the world was very much segregated for a time. Like, if Addie just shows up in Africa wouldn’t they see a non-Black trespasser on their land during that time? I feel like those first 250 years were about surviving, not exploring. Please let me know if my history is off.

    Once the world begins to become less homogenized, I can see why it’s strange that it’s not mentioned that she visited international countries in the last few decades… But I feel like if the author had written Addie in Africa or Asia, readers would have said she was walking around like she owned the place and being a colonizer and staring at POC and treated those countries like a zoo. It sounds like the author played its safe.

    My last thought is that I felt like this book wasn’t a historical fiction but a low-fantasy, almost fairytale-like. It reminded me of Snow White and Cinderella any other Eurocentric stories. Personally, the author has always seemed really out of touch. But I wasn’t expecting a realistic historical fiction-esque fantasy. This seemed to be surface level and not as focused on the world-building. But I can tell you have you really high standards. I mean, so much better diverse fantasy has come out in the past 5 years and her other series, A Darker Shade of Magic is pretty vanilla in terms of world building, IMO.

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  17. Great review! I am reading this one at the moment, and I have to admit that I’m really enjoying it, however I do find it a little bit pretentious, and I couldn’t exactly figure out why exactly until I read your review!

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