I love books about memory/forgetting, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one, especially since it’s by one of my favorite authors. The story opens in France in the year 1714 and follows a 23-year-old woman named Addie Larue.
She’s arranged to be married to a recent widower that she doesn’t really know, destined to a life of babies, subservience, and backbreaking chores — a life which she desperately wants no part of.
So on her wedding day, she runs off into the woods and prays to the old gods — pleads with whatever deity may be listening to save her, ignoring the advice of her friend and neighbor to “Never pray to those who only answer when it’s dark.”
Well, a dark god of some sort answers her, and she asks him for a chance to live, be free, and have more time. The god agrees, and they make a Faustian bargain in exchange for her soul. She will be able to escape her current life and will never age or die.
Of course, the dark ones don’t play fair and what she wasn’t aware of was that there’s a stipulation to the deal: Nobody will ever remember her for more than a few moments. Once she leaves a room, she is immediately forgotten, and each time she returns to it, it’s like it’s the first time. Out of sight, out of mind.
So the book then chronicles her fascinating struggles over 300 years — all of the pain, solitude, challenges, and loneliness she had to go through. Given that nobody can remember her, she couldn’t hold a job or sign a lease, so she pretty much had to turn to a life of crime and prostitution to survive. She’s not even able to write or sign her name. She’s unable to leave any kind of mark behind. There is never any evidence of her having existed, though she does come up with some creative ways to bend the rules and, in so doing, inadvertently leave her mark on the world.
She also cunningly alleviates her loneliness by spending months with a person, meeting them anew every day, as far as they are concerned. We also follow her odd and messy relationship dynamic with Luc, the demon/god who randomly appears in her life over the centuries, sometimes just to meddle in her life and mess with her. He desperately wants her to tire of life — to tire of being forgotten — so that he can collect her soul.
But one day, things change for Addie when she walks into a bookstore she visited the previous day, and the young man says to her, for the first time in centuries, “I remember you!” So the question is: why does he remember her, and what does that mean for Addie’s life from this point forward? Did she finally pull one over on Luc?
I can’t express how much I loved this complicated, moving book and sometimes raw story. I adored the premise of this breath-taking book. There’s real depth to the story, which delves into themes of grief, loneliness, suffering, that which makes us human, art, our need for connection, our need to live a fulfilling life, family, self-acceptance, leaving our mark on the world, being remembered, being loved and grief.
It’s a fascinating life journey – a character-driven tale that sucked me in and stole my heart. It caused me to laugh, gasp, sob, smile, frown, and experience countless other emotions throughout its pages. I think this will end up being my favorite book of 2020.