Adult · Book review · historical fiction

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

32620332The 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

6 thoughts on “Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  1. I loved this book but I can understand your criticisms completely. This is a great review (and very kind for something you gave a low star rating).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! It didn’t work for me at all (so I couldn’t give it three stars because that would mean I liked it) but I know it wasn’t a bad book, so it wouldn’t have been right to rate it lower.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is such a great review, Acqua! I’ve seen nothing but 5 star reviews for this book, and while I can totally see why people absolutely adore it, I completely relate to your points of criticism.

    (I actually only finished reading it yesterday, and am still sorting through my own feelings, but I really loved reading your thoughts on this. <3)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me a while to understand how I felt about it too. I liked Evelyn, but at the same time I didn’t enjoy reading her story at all. I don’t know, sad books whose conflict is driven by homophobia are always hard to read for me and I end up feeling like it wasn’t worth it.
      And thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oof, this is a really interesting review. And I’m kind of thinking twice about picking up the book. While I do understand the choice to use homophobia as a main source of conflict in a *historical* novel, I don’t know if I want to read through several hundred pages of that. I mostly read historical fiction where queerness and queer relationships are depicted as things to hold onto in the face of war, famine, etc. And those are the stories that I love and have become used to, so I try to avoid books like this and Call Me By Your Name, where it’s like, “Being queer is why it’s so hard to be happy.” That’s not really something I want in fiction.

    And I’m sorry this one hurt you, Acqua. *hugs* ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m fine with many fictional unpleasant things (homophobia, but this could also be said of graphic violence) as long as they don’t last for hundreds of pages and there are fun and light moments. This one had very little of that, and most of it was rushed.
      I liked some aspects of this and I think it is a good book for the most part, but I didn’t enjoy reading it at all – I need balance, or I’m not going to like the book, and with things that are personal, it’s worse.
      And yes, that’s my kind of historical books too – I avoid the Evelyn Hugo kind when I recognize it for what it is (and that’s also one of the many reasons I’m never going to read CMBYN).

      Liked by 2 people

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