Shut up and take my money.
Remember the movie Full Metal Jacket, directed by Stanley Kubrick? How half the movie is dedicated to the Marines in boot camp, and the other half focuses on them in battle and it’s almost like you’ve watched two separate but connected films? Each part can stand on its own. That’s how Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago felt. I’ve never read a book quite like this. It’s terrifying, funny, devastating, witty, and unforgettable. It’s probably more, but I can’t think of that many adjectives at the moment.
The premise is this: what if Death, who we discover is female, stopped killing people in a certain country? People just stop dying, including the ones who were suffering and close to death. It might sound like a great deal, but you soon realize, in only a way Saramago can explain, how much of a curse it can be. In the first half of this book, the societal impacts of no death (and only no HUMAN deaths in a certain area) is explored. He thinks of everything down to the most minute detail; how eternal life impacts politics, families, neighboring countries where death continues, funeral homes, doctors, undertakers, etc. Because when no one dies, but there is still suffering, how much of a life can that be? There is no main character or plot line for a vast majority of the book, but there doesn’t need to be because Saramago keeps you horrified with his witty musings.
All of this leads to what I refer to as the second part (although the book isn’t actually sectioned off), where we meet Death. She has her reasons for going on her murder strike, and has her regrets. She’s ruthless, but let’s remember she has a thankless job. Her decision to strike leads her to the discovery of a person she can’t kill, and so begins her infatuation with the man who has her beat. And since she’s dead, she only has her scythe to open up to. An emotional support scythe! Which in it of itself shows that beneath the facade, Death cares. And is maybe a bit lonely.
Saramago is so good. He can take even the most depressing and disturbing subject matter and make it entertaining and digestible. Word to the wise: You’ll probably want to read something a little lighter after this one.
Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️
How ironic that a story about a woman that no one remembers is one of the most unforgettable books I’ve ever read. This was brilliant. I devoured this months ago, and I still find myself thinking about it. And that says a lot, because unlike an elephant, my memory is not long. What did I eat this morning? No idea.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is the story of a young French woman from a small town who, in a moment of desperation, makes a deal with a dark, demonic force in exchange for immortality. What follows is an epic tale, beginning in the year 1714, of what happens when you don’t listen to the town bruja and decide to make a deal with a handsome dark god who just so happens to look like the man of your dreams.
Yes, Addie gets eternal life, and the chance to experience the world and all it has to offer outside of the simple town she came from, but it comes with a cruel catch. No one remembers her. The minute someone leaves the room, turns their back, or falls asleep, they will forget Addie LaRue. Even her family forgets her. And this causes a lot of problems for our dear Addie, who must struggle to survive this way for centuries because no one trusts or cares about her. She learns to adapt, but it takes pain, sacrifice, and, often times, her self-respect.
Her demonic captor, Luc, visits her annually on the day she made the pact. And you soon realize that he (or “it”), is in love with Addie. Luc is manipulative, and even abusive at times. He uses tactics our worst boyfriend would use, such as ghosting her, or making her feel that only he can make her feel worthy. Nevertheless, Addie refuses to get out of the agreement (which she can do by giving him her soul), which angers Luc so he makes her pay in other ways. He has an underhanded but effective way of tormenting her, and is clever as hell by staying one step ahead of even you, the reader. Luc loves being the only one that remembers Addie, and his need for power and control over her plays out through the course of the book. And with that, Schwab has given us a ferocious literary villain who I can only describe as a cross between Lord Voldemort and Nurse Ratched. Oh, and the way he says “done”; gives me chills.
Between 1714 to present day, we take a ride with the immortal Addie through history and the world’s ever changing trends, fashions, and scientific discoveries. Schwab did her research, and it shows because you will feel like you are really in whatever time period and/or part of the Earth Addie is surviving through. You’re also reminded that our world has changed so much, in such a short period of time. But you’re also reminded of the constants: the second class role of women (Would Addie have been treated so poorly if she was a man? Spoiler alert: Nope), our overreliance on money, and our society’s need to always revert back to the worst in us, which we see through wars and disease. Nevertheless, I loved seeing the world through Addie’s eyes, and her incredulity at the things we take for granted.
In present day, Addie now lives in New York City. As a New Yorker, I really felt the loneliness Addie experiences. Yes, the city is packed full of people, but you are still very much alone if you can’t make meaningful connections. And those friendships are harder to gain than you might think. I also appreciated Schwab’s mention of there always being something new to find in New York, because how very true it is. And if you’re going to live forever, you might as well be in the biggest, most culturally diverse place in the world.
In New York, Addie meets the endearing Henry Strauss. Henry is a bookstore clerk who, to her shock, actually remembers her after he catches her trying to return a book he saw her steal. Henry is the only one to remember her since the curse began, and she eventually develops a relationship with him. We learn why Henry is the only one who won’t forget her, while she’s the only one who can truly see him for who he is. And finally, Addie meets a man who is her equal. From there, Addie finds she must choose between her mortality and that of the one she loves.
I’ll leave it at that. I’ve given enough away. One thing: I noticed there are readers who dragged this novel because of the way it ends. I thought it concluded in keeping with the lesson of the story, which is that what you wish for won’t always lead to the happiness you think it will. No, Addie didn’t get everything she wanted. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that finishes her story on her terms by having the upper hand, while selflessly giving what’s most precious to her to the person she loves. For some reason, the ending reminded me of Saving Private Ryan, when a dying Tom Hanks tells a young Matt Damon to “earn it”. How powerful it is to put others before yourself.
I loved that Addie does make her mark (hint: all seven of them), even though she can never come to enjoy the impact. She’s there in our books, our art, and most importantly: in the life of Henry, who, like many of us, struggle to measure up to the expectations of others. Sometimes the people who impact us the most, are the ones that never ask, or receive, the credit.
Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Addie LaRue: Phoebe Dynevor
Luc: Henry Cavill
Henry Strauss: Logan Lerman – no question about this one.
Bea: Elarica Johnson
Robbie: Troye Sivan
Esthere: Helena Bonham Carter