- The Good: Bargains with the devil, immortality, bisexual inclusivity, and an exploration of a meaningful life
- The Bad: Slow plot, little character development, YA-ish
- The Literary: Chapters that alternate in time and place; references to art, music, and fiction
Adeline LaRue’s hopes and dreams die in 1714 when her parents agree to marry her to an old widower in their small French village. Devastated, Addie runs to the woods and prays to any god who will listen. One Faustian bargain later and Addie will not die and will not age, but she’s unable to leave any mark on the world, all in exchange for her soul. Her family and friends no longer recognize her, and everyone she meets forgets her as soon as she leaves their sight. She cannot say or write her own name, and cannot hold onto any possessions apart from the clothes on her back.
Fast forward 300 years and Addie lives in New York City, determined to live, both to spite Luc—the cunning and handsome devil who visits her on their bargain anniversary and asks if it is enough—but also because she still gets to see and experience new things, especially music and art. The chapters flit back and forth in time, revealing Addie’s life across the centuries, sometimes tragic and sometimes wonderful, but always lonely. Even though Addie can’t be remembered, she finds that she can plant ideas and be a muse, filling art and music with echoes of her presence. But when Addie meets a young man in a little bookstore who can actually remember her, she holds fast onto the one thing she now has to lose.
The nature of the bargain, to live forever as a forgotten girl, necessitates a quiet book about memory, time, love, and the purpose of a life. This is one of those books where the lack of urgency doesn’t bother me. In fact, I rather enjoy the exploration of Addie’s pact and the details of the conditions of her bargain, and in that respect the world building is satisfying. When Addie spends time in a place, you’re transported there with her, from the small country village, to Paris, New York, and New Orleans. But the lists of other places and times don’t hold near as much sway, and I would love more specific historical details that show the passage of time, especially since our world has changed so much in the last three centuries.
You can tell this story is a passion project because it’s steeped in introspective questions about wanting more, wanting love, and needing to live a life on one’s own terms. If you enjoy the poetry of life, the romance of both the new and the old, and the slow unfolding of the events that make up a person, you won’t be bothered by the lack of character development or slow plot. Addie is impulsive, dramatic, and quick to anger, and I’m not sure that ever changes. Perhaps the ending displays a new cleverness on her part, but she plays more of the role of catalyst for Henry and Luc.
So let’s talk about Henry, the mysterious bookshop clerk who remembers Addie. He’s a later addition to the cast but becomes a POV character. He’s is one of those interesting characters who should be pathetic, but he’s strangely sympathetic, if boring as all get-out. Henry desperately needs approval from others. He doesn’t know what he wants out of life. He’s too nice and sensitive and afraid, so he quits pursuing his PhD and doesn’t take pictures and won’t even acknowledge that he wants to be a writer. He feels like he’ll never be enough and disappoints everyone. He feels like no one sees the real him. But ultimately he experiences real growth.
Contrast Henry with Luc, a demon far older than God or the Devil. He’s arrogant and powerful and petty, and loves holding dominion over the many souls who make bargains with him, including Adeline. I love the relationship between Luc and Addie, and to be honest I want more of it. It’s the most interesting dynamic in the story, highly reminiscent of Sandman and Robert Gadling’s relationship in Neil Gaiman’s Men of Good Fortune, in which a god gives a man immortality. But Luc and Addie’s relationship is even messier in all the best ways, and the imbalance of power more perceptible.
I’m fine with the polarizing ending, even though it wouldn’t have been my choice. But I’m not sad to leave behind the constant references to black curls, green eyes, or a constellation of freckles, which push the novel to feel more YA or like doesn’t trust its readers to be smart.
Highly recommended as a slow, artsy, sentimental musing on life and love, diverse in sexuality if not ethnicity.