*This review does not contain spoilers
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s compelling novel “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” transports the author on a long journey where the dark underbelly of Hollywood glamour and stardom is laid bare for all to see. As we follow the journeys of Evelyn and Monique, I was struck by how little the author leaves to our imagination. There’s a moment where Reid compares bisexuality to being biracial and does it in a clunky and obvious way. As a reader, this is frustrating as I can put the dots together. The impression this book leaves on the reader is overall positive: we are enhanced by Monique and Evelyn’s choices and journey but the book does not go further than this.
That is not to say this book does not have merits: near the end, as decisions become more crucial, Reid allows her characters to overcome passivity and make spellbinding choices. The end result is a satisfying ending. The author clearly has something to say about how we idolize individuals and the past, as well as how the media frames the past. Because of that, I have no problem believing that this novel will leave a strong impact on certain readers.
Some of the language employed in this novel lacks sophistication. Reid’s prose isn’t that compelling or great, but it’s passable and unoffensive. She has a clear knack for striking visuals (mostly about what characters are wearing- if Reid put that attention towards emotions and reactions, this novel would dramatically improve) It’s one thing to say Evelyn is wearing a Chanel pantsuit, and it’s another to describe her facial expression, her fear, her anxieties, and her thoughts. Sadly, Reid does not do that.
The end result is a frustrating glimpse of history that we can’t fully enter because Reid won’t let us. Through the parody of tabloid journalism and episodic encounters with Evelyn’s ‘husbands’, this novel is closer to a recounter than an actual immersion with vivid history. It’s as if this novel is constrained.
It’s by no means a bad book: it fills its purpose, has intriguing characters, and a fantastic setting. I also liked the foreshadowing about the future of Monique and Evelyn’s relationship. Evelyn places hints that Monique’s perception of her will change and Reid is unsubtle. It works here, and it pays off.
There’s a great book underneath the witty lines and fashion descriptions. I wish Reid was brave enough to let it out.
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