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.
In 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