V.E. Schwab on the 'defiant joy' of her epic novel The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Imagine if you could live forever, but no one would ever remember you.
That's the impossible deal granted to Addie LaRue when she calls upon the gods who answer after dark in V.E. Schwab's sweeping, emotional new novel The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Schwab, the best-selling author behind books like Vicious and the Shades of Magic series, has been envisioning some version of Addie's story for a decade.
"I didn't feel mature enough," Schwab tells EW. "I didn't feel like my voice was strong enough. At some point along the way, I realized I was going to die without writing this book. I realized it was just going to be the thing that I talked about that I never actually wrote. I started to think about time, and about this sense of it passing very, very quickly. I became deeply afraid of not writing the book, and my fear of not writing the book began to outweigh my fear of writing the book wrong."
She describes it as an inverted Peter Pan: the girl who can never grow old rather than the boy who won't ever grow up, a girl who is cursed to be forgotten rather than a boy who is destined to forget. The novel charts Addie's adventures across 300-plus years of history, her dance with the Devil (whom she calls Luc), and a moment that changes her life — the day she meets a boy, Henry, who remembers her.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue hits shelves Oct. 6, and unlike its heroine, it's a book you're destined to never forget. In advance of its release, we called up Schwab to talk about memory, muses, and magic.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you pinpoint the moment or circumstances that allowed the idea of this book to take root?
V.E. SCHWAB: I was living in a big garden shed in an ex-prison-warden's backyard in Liverpool. [A housemate] dropped me in a small town in the Lake District called Ambleside. I remember having that classic ennui, and I was walking the hillside in this damp, very lonely climate where I couldn't see anybody else. I don't know why I began to think about Peter Pan. But at the same time, I was losing my grandmother to dementia. She had been ill for a decade. I had watched my grandmother forget my mother. The pain that my mother experienced being forgotten was so pointed. I started to wonder what kind of person it would take to survive immortality. Because that's the thing about Addie, is she can always give in [and give up her soul]. She had to have a positivity and a defiant joy. But I remember walking through Ambleside, feeling very intensely aware of my aloneness and thinking about what it would be like to move through a world where you couldn't leave a mark.
You're spanning more than three centuries of history. How did you decide what places and historical moments you'd drop in on?
It's a very daunting prospect. I became a collector of memories for a really long time, a collector of places. I would go on research trips where I would try and figure out what path Addie would take. In the end, I realized that I needed to narrow it down in some way. I needed to focus it. There was a temptation to be like, "This is Addie in Tokyo, this is Addie in Mexico City." I didn't want to treat Addie as a doorway to these places. I needed to remember that Addie is a unique individual, and as a person is several things. She's a very proud French woman. She is somebody who did not sign up for immortality to travel. She wanted time, not space. She is a hedonist. She enjoys art and culture and refinement. So, I started looking at tracing Addie along the path of cultural development in the Western world. I [also] had to be aware of her own travel limitations because even though she is forgettable, she's not invisible. She wouldn't be able to go on anything that required identification, that she couldn't stow away on. Addie does more living than we see on the page, but for the purposes of this narrative, I tried to use art and Western culture to develop a path for her.
You reference others who've made their own deals, prominent artists and historical figures. How did you choose which ones to feature?
The thing about the book is about half of the places you go are real, about half of the people you meet are real. I wanted to have an interplay between the people that I'm creating wholesale and the people that are actually real. I was creating a timeline, and I had to choose people that either lived right along that timeline [or who come later in the storytelling when Luc visits more often]. I remember, very early on in the process, feeling very beholden to history and thinking that everyone needed to be real and that I needed to Forrest Gump the situation. Then I realized when I made it about art that I could create the art and the artists from scratch and still give the feeling of historicity by having this interplay with real historical figures and grand historical events without being beholden to all of the humans of history.
Do you feel there's something a bit otherworldly about the power of creation or true genius?
I'm fascinated by muses. Even in one of her earliest incarnations, I knew that I wanted to make Addy a muse. We talk about creative genius. We talk about often not knowing where ideas come from, and almost having a sense of them wandering onto the page themselves or wandering into our lives. That created a really interesting amount of space for Addie to play in, because ideas, as she says, are wilder than memories. While creators might not always remember the source of their ideas, and so wrongly attribute them to themselves, Addie and Luc are counterbalances to that concept. They provide this idea of "What if your genius, what if the thing that makes you, comes from someone else?"
Luc, or the darkness, as Addie sometimes calls him, says the Devil is just a new name for an old concept. Did you ever consider officially identifying him as the Devil, or what made you want to be more fluid with that identity?
I wanted to set the village along not only a spatial line, but a theological line. What I love is this concept of where the old world meets the new, and where the old world becomes superstition and the new world becomes religion. That's something that happens across all of Europe, across all of the world where monotheism displaces polytheism. I wanted to do that within the village of Villon [where Addie is from]. I really wanted Luc to be introduced as an old god. He's somebody that is being co-opted into a new construct, but I absolutely wanted him to predate that construct. When she prays to him, she's not praying to the Devil. She's praying to one of the old gods of the village. I have never seen him as solely the Devil. I see him as an old god and specifically a god of promise. He is the Devil, he's just not only the devil. What he's basically saying is, "I am absolutely the Devil, but before there was the Devil, I was still there."
Addie has these seven very distinctive freckles, like a constellation. How did that come to you?
I wanted to give her some form of iconography that would carry forward even when she wasn't being rendered. Because I knew I was going to render her in art, I needed something that could carry from the literal to the abstract. She can't be rendered, she can be interpreted. Plus, I really like freckles. I wanted to give her her own constellation. It's one of those little details that I'm not actually sure where the origin for it was, it was always kind of implicit in her character because it gave me a motif.
Do you identify more with Addie or with Henry? Or I suppose, would you rather live forever but be forgotten or be what everyone loves or wants with a known expiration date?
This is such a hard question. I truly don't have the answer to it. It depends on the day. So I will answer the other version of the question, which is, I think I would prefer to be Addie. But I put all of myself into Henry. I put so much of myself into Henry because truly it was the only way I could figure out to write him. The story began so much as Addie and Luc's narrative that finding a way to make it truly a triptych, I was so scared of not finding Henry's story that I gave him my own.
How do you feel on the cusp of this book of your heart about to go into the world under altered circumstances?
The great irony of Addie is that I never would have wanted this year for her, but I think this was the right year for her to come out. Because when you think about the themes in the story, this stubborn hope, this defiant joy, this ability to survive anything because you believe that it's going to be worth it, it seems like it's really hitting a chord right now. I will tell you for six months after I turned it in, I grieved. I felt like there was an open grave inside of me. It had taken up so much space for so long that when that story was out on paper, I felt so sad. It was like losing a companion, losing a loved one. And I didn't lose it because it's there on paper, but I definitely felt a kind of grief. But I hope if anything that this weird little hopeful story can help people escape for just a little while and find a little bit of solace.
You said you had to mature into writing it, and this book grapples really profoundly with huge ideas. I once heard Bruce Springsteen say he tried to put everything he knew and thought about life at the time into "Jungleland." Was this book that for you?
Absolutely. I'm never stopping working. I'm always planning six books ahead. I'm always looking for the next creative high. But the experience I had upon finishing Addie was genuinely that if I never wrote another book, I would be okay. Not in the financial or life sense, but in the like, this was the legacy I wanted to leave. Like if one book out of everything that I've ever written or will write could outlive me, I would want it to be this book.