Through TikTok, many authors have found new popularity, and topping that list is Taylor Jenkins-Reid. She first found fame when her novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo made its way onto BookTok. This book didn’t reach mainstream attention until 2019, when it was announced that the story rights were sold to Freeform 2 years after the book’s release. Since then, it has blown up and topped book charts around the world, with any of Taylor Jenkins-Reid’s new releases immediately joining that list. It is even being made into a Netflix movie.
I bought The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo because of BookTok and, despite the popularity, I wasn’t a huge fan.
Spoiler alert: the rest of this story discusses the book’s plot
The novel follows Evelyn Hugo, an old Hollywood movie star, as she recounts her life and love stories with each of her seven husbands. Throughout each of them she had big dreams and a bigger secret. The story begins with Evelyn auctioning off her iconic wardrobe for charity and requesting a fairly unknown journalist to tell her life story. Over the course of their meetings, Monique discovers the real love of Evelyn’s life, the woman Hollywood believed to be her rival, Celia St. James.
The story itself is relatively easy to follow, with each of Evelyn’s husbands getting a section in Evelyn’s life. My main problem with this book is Evelyn herself. Evelyn Hugo is very hard to like, and some of her behaviour borders on abusive. She manipulates people, men and women, into getting what she wants. She often only considers herself, then realises later the repercussions for the people around her. She is emotionally manipulative and abusive, mostly to Celia, who is younger than her and naïve. If Evelyn was a man, readers would not put up with her behaviour.
Meeting Evelyn at the beginning, she seems like a wonderful woman. I felt that through all of her successes I would like her, after all she seemed like an interesting character. Though as soon as we learned about her history, I immediately disliked her.
Evelyn changed her whole life to become famous, leaving many people behind her that she used on her way to the top. Later on, as she gets older, she grows in her understanding of life, influenced by both Celia and her fifth and most genuine husband Harry. The car accident that Harry is involved in and kills him further cements Evelyn’s nature. She moves the passenger in the car to the drivers seat so Harry’s name can stay unblemished, though both Harry and his lover die because of the drunk driving accident.
Taylor Jenkins Reid does bring LGBTQIA+ characters and leading women of colour to a hugely successful book, but makes the main character an awful human being. Evelyn often gets jealous, possessive and self centred when it comes to all of her relationships, which detracts from the LGBTQIA+ representation. Celia actually leaves Evelyn, twice, because of how she acts.
Once the story reached its conclusion, I liked Evelyn more than I thought I would. The character growth that she goes through redeems some of her previous actions. She is obviously a different person, looking back through the reflective lens with Monique. As a narrator, Monique is helpful in getting us to like Evelyn as she goes through waves of liking and disliking her as well. The parts that are purely Evelyn show the type of person she is, but when Monique tells her own experiences and what Evelyn was like to her, she had humanity and a heart.
When I had finished reading the novel, there were some redeeming parts. The novel itself is written quite well, with a very interesting premise and story concept. There was a huge twist at the end that I wasn’t able to predict, which was very interesting and made the ending one of the best parts.
I can also appreciate and recognise the journey that Evelyn went on over her lifetime. If she were real, she would have been a pioneer for Hispanic representation in that time period, as well as donating a lot of money to LGBTQIA+ charities.
Overall, I give this book two out of five. It started well and ended well, but there was so much in the middle that detracted from the story the author was trying to tell. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re into representation and want a relatively simple book, but it doesn’t teach any valuable lessons or deserves a place in the literature hall of fame.
If you wanted to listen to music to make you feel like you’re in Evelyn’s world, give this playlist created by a fan a go.
Original photos by Yasemin Rogers