Kathryn Justice Leache

In V. E. Schwab’s genre-bending 17th novel, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, the reader first meets Addie as she is fleeing a life she doesn’t want, one that has been chosen for her by her parents. In the year 1714 in Villon, France, 23-year-old Addie is being forced to marry a widower from her village whose children are in want of a stepmother. Instead of submitting, Addie runs. “She doesn’t slow, doesn’t look back; she doesn’t want to see the life that stands there, waiting. Static as a drawing. Solid as a tomb. Instead, she runs.”

She also prays to the old gods, as her friend Estele, the village witch, has taught her. Estele warned her never to pray to the gods that answer after dark, but as dusk bleeds into night, Addie accidentally conjures just such a god, whom she will come to know as Luc. He promises Addie of “time without limit, freedom without rule” in exchange for her soul. Only after the deal is struck does Addie understand the secret cost of this arrangement. She can live for a thousand years if she likes, but nobody will ever remember her. Until one day, in New York City in the year 2014, she walks into a bookstore and, for the first time in 300 years, someone does. It’s a twist that changes everything she thought she knew about her future and the decisions that await her.

At the heart of this novel is a meditation on legacy, time and the values each person uses to guide their path. Freed from a life’s traditional arc of aging and transitions, the indefatigable Addie must proactively decide how she wants to spend her days and which sacrifices are worth her soul’s survival. This is a hopeful book from an author who is known for dark, violent stories, which makes it both a delightful surprise and a balm in difficult times.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Victoria Schwab discusses her “strange, hopeful book.”

Freed from a life’s traditional arc of aging and transitions, the indefatigable Addie must proactively decide how she wants to spend her days and which sacrifices are worth her soul’s survival.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was set to become the biggest book of Victoria “V. E.” Schwab’s career thus far. She’d spent 10 years imagining Addie, and finally sharing her story with the world would be cause for much celebration. An extensive tour was planned to help ease Schwab, the author of 17 fantasy novels, including the Shades of Magic trilogy and multiple YA and middle grade series, out of the fantasy pigeonhole and into the literary space.

But instead, COVID-19 happened. Our conversation takes place over Zoom in late July, while Schwab is still holed up in her parents’ home in France, her quarantine spot of five months. Schwab grew up in the States but now lives in Scotland. She arrived at her parents’ home the day before the French lockdown began with eight articles of clothing, figuring she’d be there a month to six weeks max. “I’m a 33-year-old who did not plan on spending all of 2020 living with my parents,” she says with a laugh.

“It’s about being willing to live through hard times because of the promise of good ones.”

Instead of an in-person book tour with all the trimmings, Schwab will spend the two weeks after Addie’s publication on a nocturnal schedule in Europe, doing virtual events for bookstores in the U.S. Fortunately, she has mostly made peace with her (and Addie’s) lot. “If I have to wait a couple of years to toast her with my publishing team, I think that I could take a lesson in patience from this character that I lived with for 10 years,” she says. And at 324 years young, Addie LaRue is nothing if not patient.

Addie’s story begins in early 18th-century France. About to be married off against her will, Addie prays in supplication to the gods, as her witchy neighbor Estele has taught her. But when Addie mistakenly summons a god of darkness, she makes a deal that will save her from marriage but whose contours take her many years to fully comprehend: Addie can live forever, but the catch is that she won’t be remembered by her friends, her family or anyone she encounters.

Addie spends the next 300 years learning to navigate—and indeed, enjoy—this strange reality. By the year 2014, she has hit her stride when she meets a boy named Henry who actually remembers her—and her world is turned upside down once again.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.


To some extent, Schwab says it took a global pandemic to fully appreciate the themes of her own novel. She calls Addie “a very strange, hopeful book from an author who usually writes very dark, violent, almost anarchic stories.”

Living an author’s virtual life has had unexpected advantages. In June, Schwab appeared in conversation with one of her heroes, Neil Gaiman, for an audience of 7,000 on Crowdcast during Macmillan’s TorCon, and Gaiman ended up endorsing Addie. Virtual events also make it possible for her international fans to participate.

But virtual events can also be draining and disorienting. When touring IRL, Schwab likes to find a happy face in the audience and test out one-liners to see what gets a good reaction. “I have a personal relationship with my readers, and I miss seeing their faces,” she sighs.

I decide to play the part of an audience member and ask her a question that frequently comes up at book events: What is Addie LaRue’s origin story? “I was living in an ex-prison warden’s backyard in Liverpool,” Schwab begins. (Don’t all great stories start this way?) Without her own transportation, Schwab relied on her roommate to drop her off in various small towns, where she would spend hours exploring. One day, she visited a Lake District town with a “wild atmosphere” and timeless quality that left her pondering the pros and cons of immortality.

“I think immortality is such a gift,” she explains, “because I’m somebody for whom life is always moving too fast. I blink, and 10 years go by.” Addie says nearly the same thing as she stares down her impending marriage.

Invisible Life of Addie LaRueIn 2020, finding small reasons for hope and optimism when too many tedious days stretch ahead is a scenario that people around the world understand in an intimate way. Unlike Addie, we can’t fill our quarantine days with the endless pursuit of fine art or good food or high culture. But we do have stories.

“What I’m discovering through early readers,” Schwab says, “is that Addie’s is a philosophy that many people need to see right now. The book is about defiant joy, it’s about a stubborn hope, it’s about being willing to live through hard times because of the promise of good ones. I think there’s a huge current of loneliness and fear running through things right now. When I was in a really, really dark place in my life, the smallest things kept me going. I thought, I don’t ever want to miss a thunderstorm.” So she created a character who could find joy in small acts.

In the end, Schwab knows that she and Addie will have their moments in the sun, albeit on a timeline nobody can yet predict. “The themes of the book are about patience. I’m trying really hard not to mourn a version [of my book launch] that will never exist. Another beautiful thing about books is that they don’t have an expiration.”

 

Author photo by Jenna Maurice

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was set to become the biggest book of Victoria “V. E.” Schwab’s career thus far. She’d spent 10 years imagining Addie, and finally sharing her story with the world would be cause for much celebration. An extensive tour was planned to help ease Schwab, the author of 17 fantasy novels, including the Shades of Magic trilogy and multiple YA and middle grade series, out of the fantasy pigeonhole and into the literary space. But instead, COVID-19 happened.

“It is my belief,” writes Piranesi, the protagonist of Susanna Clarke’s new novel of the same name, “that the World (or, if you will, the House, since the two are for practical purposes identical) wishes an Inhabitant for Itself to be a witness to its Beauty and the recipient of its Mercies.” Clarke’s first novel since 2004’s wildly successful and critically acclaimed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Piranesi centers on a strange, haunting world and features a main character whose earnest goodwill is piercingly endearing.

The House, composed of hundreds of huge rooms filled with statues and wild birds and containing an ocean’s four tides, is so vast it may as well be infinite. Piranesi spends his days fishing, drying seaweed to burn for warmth, tracking the tides and cataloging the features of each room of the House in his journals. Twice a week, he meets with the Other, the only living person Piranesi has ever known. The Other is obsessed with finding and “freeing the Great and Secret Knowledge from whatever holds it captive in the World and to transfer it to ourselves,” and the guileless and devoted Piranesi has been his cheerful collaborator.

But just as Piranesi begins to lose faith in the Knowledge, a discovery leads him to question his own past. From this point, the novel is almost impossible to put down. The reader reflexively mirrors Piranesi in his quest to interpret the clues revealed to him by his beloved World. Stripping this mystery back layer by layer is a magical way to spend an afternoon, reading narrative motifs like runes and studying Piranesi’s journals as if they are the religious texts they resemble.

Piranesi hits many of the same pleasure points as Jonathan Strange—Clarke’s dazzling feats of world building, for one. But at one-third as many pages, Piranesi is more allegorical than epic in scope. With their neoclassical verve, certain passages recall ancient philosophy, but readers may also see connections between Piranesi’s account and the unique isolation of a confined life—whether as a result of a mandatory lockdown during a global pandemic, or perhaps due to the limitations caused by a chronic illness, such as Clarke’s own chronic fatigue syndrome.

Lavishly descriptive, charming, heartbreaking and imbued with a magic that will be familiar to Clarke’s devoted readers, Piranesi will satisfy lovers of Jonathan Strange and win her many new fans.

Lavishly descriptive, charming, heartbreaking and imbued with a magic that will be familiar to Clarke’s devoted readers, Piranesi will satisfy lovers of Jonathan Strange and win her many new fans.

In Drifts, Kate Zambreno ponders an early self-portrait by German artist Albrecht Dürer. Drawn from his own mirrored reflection, the portrait is realistic except for Dürer’s hand, which had been too busy sketching to model for the drawing. “Perhaps it’s impossible to record the self at the immediate moment of contemplation,” Zambreno writes. She tries it anyway: “The publishing people told me that I was writing a novel, but I was unsure.”

Zambreno is the author of six previous books, most of which defy easy categorization. Roxane Gay, in her 2012 essay “How We All Lose,” describes Zambreno’s Heroines as a “hybrid text that is part manifesto, part memoir, and part searing literary criticism” and praises its unashamed subjectivity. This description could readily apply to Drifts. The title comes from Zambreno’s experiments with a new form. Rather than combat “monkey brain,” as her yoga instructor calls the conscious mind in its chaotic, web-enabled 21st-century state, Zambreno’s “drifts” lean into it, seeking to honor and somehow capture the distracted present tense. “I wanted my novel, if that’s what it was, to be about time and the problem of time,” as well as  “the problem with dailiness—how to write the day when it escapes us.”

The cast of characters includes the writer’s partner, her dog, her neighbors and her correspondents, but also Rilke, Kafka and Dürer, to name a few. And yes—quite a lot happens, even if the action isn’t necessarily the plot. To that end, Drifts is a kind of inverted mindfulness exercise in book form, fixed on pinning moments down like so many butterflies. Zambreno has abstained from the novelist’s traditional task of keeping a story arc aloft. 

If this sounds like veiled criticism, it isn’t, though it probably should be taken as a warning to anyone hungry for more conventional fare. But for readers in the mood for an adventure, this is a giddily enjoyable read, emotionally conspiratorial in tone, full of brilliant critical observations and realistic depictions of the dramas in a modern artist’s daily life, the small ones as well as the life-altering ones.

Rather than combat “monkey brain,” as her yoga instructor calls the conscious mind in its chaotic, web-enabled 21st-century state, Zambreno’s “drifts” lean into it, seeking to honor and somehow capture the distracted present tense.

In his funny, gory new romp, Grady Hendrix conjures horror heroines out of a surprising demographic—the carpool moms of 1990s suburbia. They looked like “carpool drivers, skinned-knee kissers, errand runners, secret Santas and part-time tooth fairies, with their practical jeans and their festive sweaters. . . . But when the time came, [they] went the distance.” And how.

Life in the Old Village, Patricia Campbell’s suburban South Carolina enclave, has always been safe, if a little unstimulating. But that’s before Patricia is attacked in her yard by an elderly neighbor gone feral, and soon she finds herself driving around her neighbor’s attractive relative, James Harris, and inviting him into her house for ice cream with the family. Life is suddenly far from boring, but when Patricia’s suspicions about James begin to escalate, she takes the matter to her true crime book club. 

According to her friends, Patricia’s just projecting a titillating plot onto their ploddingly dull daily lives. But when children from the poor neighborhood across town start dying, the club is forced to grapple with the possibility that Patricia’s new friend just may be the monster she claims he is. And as if one monster isn’t enough, the women must confront another enemy at least as terrifying: the patriarchy.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires takes place in the same universe as Hendrix’s Stoker Award-winning horror novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which is loosely based on his own childhood. Hendrix writes in an author’s note that his latest novel was inspired by the strength of his own mother and others like her: women easy to write off, but hard to defeat. “I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom,” Hendrix explains. “As you’ll see, it’s not a fair fight.” 

In turns heartwarming and enraging, bloody horror and social critique, this genre-bending vampire story helps cement horror as a frontier for feminist storytelling. 

In his funny, gory new romp, Grady Hendrix conjures horror heroines out of a surprising demographic—the carpool moms of 1990s suburbia.

You’ve probably seen a similar story in the news: A pretty American teenager meets a tragic end while on vacation in a tropical paradise. The 24-hour news cycle is fueled by every salacious detail of the girl’s private life, and with every new revelation, hasty conclusions are drawn. The lurid media frenzy cruelly obscures what should be obvious—that the dead girl was a real person, someone’s daughter or perhaps someone’s sister.

Alexis Schaitkin’s magnetic debut, Saint X, begins on the first day of 7-year-old Claire Thomas’ family vacation on a fictional Caribbean island. Claire’s 18-year-old sister, Alison—gorgeous, brilliant and on the sullen cusp of adulthood—disappears on the last day. When her body is found, local police make some arrests but can’t make murder charges stick, which drives her grieving parents even further around the bend. Claire, already a “reticent, prickly” child with an obsessive streak, struggles to fit into her new identity as the surviving sister: “I was an only child now, hopelessly insufficient.” 

But time does its good work. The Thomases transplant themselves from the East Coast to Pasadena, California, where Claire decides to go by Emily, her middle name. A fresh start in a sunny setting is what she and her family need to forge a manageable path through the rest of their lives. If Alison haunts her little sister throughout childhood, into college and beyond, it is more or less as a friendly ghost. 

This relative peace is upended in a moment. Emily, now an editorial assistant living in Brooklyn, has a chance encounter with an employee of the Saint X resort where her family vacationed—a man with whom Alison was seen on the night she died. Emily is yanked instantly into an obsessive web of her own making, a cold case unceremoniously reopened: Who was her sister, really? And what really happened to her?

Saint X is a nuanced examination of class, privilege and the terrible ways that tragedy can echo forward in time. Schaitkin embellishes a strong plot with psychologically complex main characters and a chorus of devastatingly incomplete narratives from peripheral characters about what really took place on Saint X. This is a must-read for fans of literary suspense.

Saint X is a nuanced examination of class, privilege and the terrible ways that tragedy can echo forward in time. Schaitkin embellishes a strong plot with psychologically complex main characters and a chorus of devastatingly incomplete narratives from peripheral characters about what really took place on Saint X. This is a must-read for fans of literary suspense.

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