Written By: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Final Overall Rating: 7/10
First of all, this review is purely derived from my own personal opinion. If you disagree, let me know in the comments; I am always up for a good discussion or to answer questions.
Recommend Yes or No:
Yes. Let me start by saying this book is not what I expected. I anticipated a narrative on the toxicity of fame and fortune. A nod to The Great Gatsby if you will. And, to some extent, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo does follow the fame, fortune, and fall trope. You can’t have it all, and fame demands sacrifice. However, Reid’s novel more closely examines the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights; and follows the lives of people in that community forced to hide their truth and their identity. It is altogether too easy to sweep the conflicts of history under the headstones and forget the pain of the past. It is not only easy but the desired destination for the majority. But pain affords reflection and reminders which are essential to avoid the repetitious mistakes to which humanity is so prone.
Often to win the war you lose many battles. This novel is full of lost battles. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo exposes shortcomings in human complexity and highlights the issues found in a society where straight, white men make the rules. But good thing our girl Evelyn isn’t very good with rules. 😉
(Spoilers Below – Read at your own peril!)
Writing Style: 6/10
Though The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is engaging in terms of story the writing style is lacking substance – more tell than show. This is unfortunate as it is the primary shortcoming of this novel. I want to experience the story with my full sensory spectrum not just with my eyes or ears.
Reid writes this book in first person and past tense with Evelyn as the primary narrator. Though when Evelyn isn’t telling her story the narrator shifts to Monique Grant. I enjoyed the interviewer and subject perspective this novel followed. It flowed and read like a film that switched between modern and old film techniques. Which, to give Reid credit, was a reading experience I had yet to encounter. As a hyperphantasia (aka photorealistic – you can learn more here: https://www.magneticmemorymethod.com/hyperphantasia/) reader who sees “mind movies” as I read this was an inventive, fascinating approach to reading my mind movie. It felt similar to watching a movie like The Age of Adaline.
The story of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is immersive, glamorous, and powerful. Readers are reminded unjust hatred and bigotry are still very much alive. Love is equal. Except it’s not ¬– not in practice anyway. Out of the innumerable and severe injustices of modernity, the concern of what gender warms the hearts of another should not be demonized. MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. Love is a celebration, and Evelyn’s life and mistakes remind us to love – even when it hurts – because love is amazing and the choice to love rather than hate has the incredible power to heal.
Evelyn spends most of her adult life satisfying the carnal desires of Hollywood. Stardom comes with a price, and for Evelyn the price tag is sacrificing her heart. Evelyn lacked love growing up, and it became the one emotion she feared for the majority of her life. Evelyn was more comfortable being adored. Adoration has little to no strings attached – stand tall, smile pretty, and as Aaron Burr from Hamilton claims, “never let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” But just because Evelyn feared love does not mean she didn’t spend her life searching for it.
Evelyn meets Celia when she is already in her second marriage. Celia saves Evelyn from the pain of an abusive marriage. But due to the time in history, Evelyn and Celia’s love culminates, and the Hollywood spotlight pointed dead center on their life, their love is destined to be tragic from first spark. It takes almost an entire lifetime for Evelyn to focus on their feelings rather than her fame.
I also very much enjoyed the surprise at the end of the novel. 😉 The light element of mystery surrounding the unknown tie to Evelyn and Monique enhanced the reading experience.
My one issue with the story was the lack of story surrounding Monique. Reid uses Monique as a plot device rather than a full 3D character, which is a tragic misstep.
Character Development: 6/10
The character development was realistic for most of the characters. Evelyn is already developed as a person and an icon when we (the readers) meet her. She is famous and flawed and tragic, and Evelyn wants the world to know it. I felt like I knew Evelyn by the end of the novel. Like she could have been a close friend or family member. I love that Reid provides us with the experience of truly knowing and understanding her main character.
I also felt that Celia and all 7 husbands had adequate character development. Reid keeps their characters brief but beloved or despised. When an author has several important characters in their novel character development can fall flat – making the characters 2D and lifeless. But Reid manages to keep the majority of her characters in the realm of 3D.
The two characters who lacked character development were Monique and Conrad (Evelyn’s daughter). I understand the book is centric to Evelyn, but the lack of focus on these two characters is detrimental ¬– especially for Monique. Monique plays an unknowing part in the drama that is Evelyn’s life, and the big reveal at the end loses its impact, to some extent, because I did not know Monique by the end of the novel. She remains a shallow character with so much undeveloped potential. I wanted to like and identify with Monique but found her to still be a stranger by the end. And, as for Conrad, Reid highlights that Conrad is the most important person in Evelyn’s life, and yet we never learn anything about her. Conrad remains a mystery. I also disliked Evelyn’s dialogue surrounding Conrad; it was cold.
Favorite Quote from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo:
“If you love someone enough, you should be able to overcome anything…” (Reid, 345).
I personally don’t believe this sentiment is always possible, but I love the idealism.
“So, do yourself a favor and learn to grab life by the balls, dear…” (Reid, 30). I feel like this says it all. If we don’t learn how to advocate for ourselves in this life, we might as well throw our hands up in surrender. Sometimes you have to fight for yourself; and that is more than okay.
Book Club Questions:
- What did you think of the settings?
- Did you like the writing? Why or why not?
- Which character was your favorite/least favorite and why?
- What did the author do well?
- What could the author have done better?
- What was Reid’s purpose in starting the novel off by talking about auctioning off Hugo’s dresses?
- What constitutes what humans define as beautiful? We have Frankie at the beginning whose features are strange and beautiful and then we have Hugo who is “what humans should be born looking like (15).”
- Who was Hugo based on? If anyone.
Reid, Taylor Jenkins. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.