The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the first novel I completed for Marvel-A-thon (challenge: read a book with a green cover). It was also one of the book I said I was intimidated by. It turned out to be exactly what I feared it would be.
I could start this review by saying that this book didn’t work for me because adult contemporary fiction just isn’t my thing. I could say that this wasn’t my kind of novel, since it deals with American history and Hollywood and I care about neither. I could tell you that the hype ruined it for me, the glowing five-star reviews, or the many untagged spoilers.
All of those things are true. But the main reason is, I don’t like reading books about queer pain.
Yes, that’s it. I get enough in real life. I’m glad if someone can feel empowered by a book about people suffering for being queer, some of them dying tragically when relatively young
because the author likes to toe the line with tragedy porn, but I can’t.
Why I think The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is about queer pain:
The surprising thing is, this book wouldn’t have felt like that if only it had been told differently, but at the same time I can recognize this wasn’t possible.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo follows Monique, a reporter who is now writing the biography of the very mysterious actress Evelyn Hugo, famous for her seven husbands. This books covers all of Evelyn’s life, which means that:
• it’s very fast-paced and readable, but it’s also rushed;
• the side characters are never developed enough;
• I couldn’t care about anyone but Evelyn;
• I couldn’t understand why Evelyn and the love of her life liked each other so much
I couldn’t, because everything goes by way too fast. Almost all scenes we get of Celia and Evelyn are the plot-relevant ones, the bones of the story, which means that most of the scenes we get about them are about them fighting. And I don’t mean bickering, I mean hurting each other, sometimes deliberately. I’m sure their relationship wasn’t all like that, but if that is all I get, I don’t have any reason to root for them. We see the conflict instead of the relationship.
And all the conflict in their relationship stems from homophobia.
You could say that it actually stems from Evelyn being selfish and always using people, you could say that all of it happened because of Celia’s stubbornness (by the way: I couldn’t stand her), but honestly? The reason Evelyn was using people was to protect herself and her love from homophobia. Celia was stubborn because she didn’t know how to make this marriage work when everyone outside her found family was homophobic. Once we meet Celia, everything was about homophobia.
I’m not saying books like this one shouldn’t exist. I know The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has been important for many people. I also know that I almost couldn’t finish it, and I still wonder how this book managed to hurt me so much when I knew everything that was going to happen and didn’t even care about the side characters. I don’t think this is a bad book, either: Evelyn is a very unique, well-rounded character, surprisingly complex, so manipulative she almost scared me. I really liked her, because she was awful at times, and I love when women – especially queer women of color (she’s bisexual and Cuban) – are allowed to be awful without being demonized. And while I think this format of storytelling is inherently flawed, I don’t think this book could have worked any other way.
This book just wasn’t for me. There’s nothing wrong with that; I just wish I had realized this before putting myself through the second half.
My rating: ★★½