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Can You Do a Deal with the Devil and Win? Read Addie LaRue's Story

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

A Faustian fantasy sure to make you think

Silhouette of a man in a dense forest
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Fantasy called and I answered

Last summer, I tried something new and daring. Something I hadn't done since I was very young. Something totally out of my normal routine.

I read V.E. Schwab's The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, a fantasy.

Until The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, the last time I could remember reading fantasy books was almost forty years ago when I binged on Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. Shortly before that, I had consumed Marion Zimmer Bradley's award-winning The Mists of Avalon. Both those novels delighted and enthralled my younger self. (To this day when the moon is full casting its soft glowing light over the earth, I feel like going outside, raising my arms, and lifting my face to absorb its power...some vague recollection of a scene from The Mists of Avalon stirring in my heart.)

So what made me stop reading that genre that allowed me to explore my own humanity and escape from humanity simultaneously?

I have no idea.

Maybe as parenting demands and career pressures grew, I felt I was too mature to read about imaginary worlds. Maybe I had more pressing priorities and spent all my time preparing for the writing and literature classes I was teaching. Maybe different titles called to me louder and more insistently than fantasy ones did.

At any rate, decades after my first dive into fantasy, I dipped my toe into the speculative waters again. Choosing to read The Invisible Life of Addie Larue got me out of my rut, my deeply entrenched habit of always selecting historical and mainstream fiction with an occasional nonfiction book thrown in.

Thanks to V. E. Schwab and "Addie", I'm now open to reading a fantasy novel, too.

The growth of the fantasy genre

In just one short year, from 2020 to 2021, fantasy book sales grew by 45.3%. That's the biggest increase of any genre except graphic novels.

Think about it. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. J.R.R. Tolkien and his Middle Earth novels, including Amazon's Prime new high-dollar, "The Rings of Power" series. The undaunted popularity of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice," the novel that spurred HBO Max's "Game of Thrones."

Throw in the Twilight Series, the Hunger Games, and "The Vampire Chronicles," and you can see why the numbers are up and have been growing for years. Perhaps during the pandemic we began to explore places outside of our own cramped little world. Maybe life seems a little grimmer now than it used to. Possibly, space exploration or studies in physics, history, anthropology, and archeology are spurring our curiosity.

No matter the cause, book sales in the fantasy genre are increasing.

Here's the weird and wonderful "why" of that increase:

We may be escaping from the world by reading fantasy, but we are able to see ourselves - and understand humanity more clearly - in an alternate universe.

The appeal of Addie Larue

While some of the members of our book club were uneasy reading a book whose character makes a deal with the devil, I found Schwab's novel to be a beautifully written, captivating variation of the classic Faustian tale.

The "Faust" story was first published in the 1580s in the Wittenbüttler manuscript. The Faust story is based on a real person, an alchemist who lived in northern Germany in the 1400s. A scholar, a theologian, and an astronomer, Faust always wanted MORE, so he does a deal with the devil, selling his soul for knowledge and power.

Faust's desire to be more, to know more, and to have more is one of the frailties of human nature, a theme so pervasive that the Faust story was elaborated on by Christopher Marlowe and Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in succeeding centuries. The idea of selling your soul to the devil has thousands of variations in literature, theater, film, and music: The Picture of Dorian Gray; Little Shop of Horrors, The Phantom of the Opera, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and many, many more, including The Invisible Life of Addie Larue.

Addie Larue's deal

Addie Larue grows up in the small French village of Villon in the early 1700s. Her father is a woodcarver and has taught her to draw. Addie is talented with her pencil. As she grows, her sketches develop depth and beauty, and when she nears womanhood, she sketches a portrait of the man of her dreams.

Ever since Addie's father took her to the market outside of town, Addie has longed to escape the constraints of her town and see more of the world. But ultimately, she is contracted to marry an older widow with four children. The night of her wedding, Addie flees the ceremony running into the woods and pleading to the darkness for a way to escape.

Throughout her life, Addie has been mentored by Estele, an old single woman who lives on her own terms, not conforming to the religious rites of the village. Instead, Estele worships the old gods of nature. Her one stern warning to Addie is to "never pray to Gods who answer after dark."

Addie's desperation causes her to forget Estele's advice. When she flees from her impending marriage and runs into the forest, a man appears. He looks exactly like the handsome, square-jawed, green-eyed man she created in her sketch, black curls framing his face.

Addie does not want to marry. She wants freedom and a chance to live. The man offers her that, in exchange for her soul. Addie agrees, telling him that he can have her soul when she doesn't want it anymore. Her declaration begins an odyssey of three centuries as she witnesses history, experiences art, travels to different places, and falls in love.

She does not understand the cost of her desire to live freely.

The cost - and the curse - of total freedom

What Addie didn't realize when she did her deal is that to get the complete freedom she desired, no one would ever remember her. She would not make any kind of mark on the world. People would see her, begin a relationship, and as soon as they separated, Addie would be gone from their minds. She couldn't hold a job. She couldn't earn money. She had no possessions or residence because landlords would forget who she was as soon as they left the room.

Addie is first forced to prostitute herself, stealing, pilfering, and squatting in unused buildings to survive. As the years go by, she gets better at pickpocketing and is better able to sustain herself, but she is always lonely, filling her time with books, learning languages, and visiting art galleries.

Her ability to live free and unhindered came with a cost that was a curse. Her life was rendered "invisible."

And yet...

Addie continued to survive and influence the world around her, leaving traces of herself in artistic masterpieces through the ages.

Dancing with the devil...and more

Over the years, the man of the darkness, this "old god" who Addie begins calling "Luc," appears asking if Addie is ready to give up her soul. Occasionally, he even transports her out of danger or whisks her to another place or time

Luc shows up sporadically on their anniversary, sometimes leaving her waiting, sometimes wining and dining her. As the centuries progress, Addie in her loneliness succumbs to a tempestuous relationship with Luc that teeters between love and hate. Luc develops a grudging admiration for Addie and her ability to enjoy life even though no one ever remembers her.

Addie is lonely. She is tired. Sometimes she does want to give up, but something in her refuses to surrender her soul to Luc. One of my favorite passages of the book showcases the power of a human spirit to continue - against all odds:

"...the weariness is a physical thing, like rot, inside her soul. There are days when she mourns the prospect of another year, another decade, another century. There are nights when she cannot sleep, moments when she lies awake and dreams of dying.
But then she wakes and sees the pink and orange dawn against the clouds, or hears the lament of a lone fiddle, the music and the melody, and remembers there is such beauty in the world.
And she does not want to miss it - any of it."

The cross between Forest Gump and The Gift of the Magi

Addie is taken by surprise when Henry, the manager of "The Last Word" Bookstore remembers her. Unlike everyone else over the course of three hundred years, Henry, alone, does not forget her.

So begins a deep and genuine love where Addie is loved and remembered; where her name can be spoken, her story told, and her memories recorded by Henry in a series of notebooks.

But the Devil has not yet had his due, because Henry, too, has his secrets, and Addie must decide how much her soul is worth in the face of love.

So much to like about this novel

It's a fantasy novel. I get it. But somehow, the questions it asked, touched me, a real, living human being, deeply.

  • Would my life be worth living if no one would ever remember me?

  • Do I have the strength that Addie has to battle evil for long periods of time - (even though she had called it into her life to begin with?)

  • Am I making the most of each day, experiencing the joy and beauty of living?

  • Where DOES the inspiration for art come from, really?

  • Am I taking full advantage of the knowledge that "ideas are wilder than memories"?

  • Will I continue to live with zest as I age?

What V.E. Schwab said about Addie

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Schwab, author of Shades of Magic, Villians, Cassidy Blake, and Monsters of Verity series, says that out of her twenty books, the one she wants to be remembered for is "The Invisible Life of Addie Larue."

Part of Schwab's conception of the book stemmed from watching her grandmother fall ill to dementia and forget Schwab's mother, seeing how it affected her mom not to be remembered. Schwab envisioned Addie Larue as an "inverted Peter Pan: The girl who can never grow old rather than that boy who won't ever grow up."

V. E. Schwab created Addie Larue, a character who could "survive immortality." At any moment after Addie made her deal with the devil, she could have surrendered and given up her soul. Instead, Addie's enthusiasm and positive outlook give her the ability to fully experience - and enjoy - living, what Schwab calls a "defiant joy."

"Defiant joy."

Love that concept.

The best book blurb ever?

I can't remember why I picked up this book, or what made me decide to spend my scant dollars on something so far out of my normal range of comfort.

Probably it's because The Invisible Life of Addie Larue boasts one of the absolute best book blurbs I've ever seen.

"A life no one will remember. A story you will never forget."

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