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

Since I read this as an audiobook, the lovely picture used above is from Jenna M. Be sure to also check out her review of the book too!

Reading this was a unique experience for me: it was my first time listening to an audiobook! I found myself working at the same time, mind caught between the book and something else, not really enjoying either. But a book like this deserves better. It took me by surprise, delivered a few well-aimed and deliberate plot twists, and left me reeling.

“I have long operated under the idea that civility is subservience. But it hasn’t gotten me very far, that type of kindness. The world respects people who think they should be running it.”

Taylor Jenkins Reid

What worked for me

Glitz and grit of Old Hollywood: I believe that a fundamental human want is to know what celebrities get up to – whether they’re people, just like us, or whether our awe of them is justified. This book in no small way illustrates both the luxury of wealth, and its limitations. The characters attend the Oscars, go to lavish restaurants, and wear stunningly-described clothes. But none of it protects them from abuse, heartbreak or death. In fact, you get a sense of the pressure that a reputation like that of Evelyn Hugo (aka fictional Marilyn Monroe) would entail: a life under the spotlights means one with no perceivable flaws.

The real love interest: as would be expected, this story’s through line comes in romance. This is a story full of love, and yet you still unabashedly root for this one in particular to work out. It is another aspect not romanticised – the relationship has flaws that could signal its end, but wouldn’t necessarily onein real life. It keeps you on your toes, unabashedly hopeful and yet unsure if they ever will get their happy ending. Evelyn’s story has such an air of melancholy that you really do wonder if she’ll be left with a broken heart – and if you’ll end up with one on her behalf.

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.” 

Taylor Jenkins Reid

And… what didn’t

Repetitiveness: in a book with no fewer than seven love interests, and a main character consistently willing to marry for personal gain, the plot often became repetitive. The author asks you to suspend your disbelief and think ‘this time will be different’ a few many times; I found myself snoozing through the portions of the book where I can already tell what the ending would be. The writing was simply not captivating enough to pull you through those gaping filler stories.

Character development de Monique: I shouldn’t have been surprised that Evelyn Hugo was undoubtedly the main character of the story. Somehow, I was though – perhaps because it’s quickly revealed that she is not its narrator. The plot line revolving around narrator Monique, with Evelyn as an inspiration to be bold and act fiercely, serves as another uninspiring backdrop. This is to be expected, of course: comparing the highlights of a more than sixty years of life to a few weeks, one is bounded to not compare. I only wish the writer had realised the same.

Final review: 3.5/5 stars

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Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I must say – the original cover is far better, especially since the film cast doesn’t always match the book’s given character appearances!

On my first read of ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, I didn’t understand the hype. It’s no understatement to say it’s considered a modern classic, one of those coming-of-age books that everyone is supposed to read – but I just couldn’t appreciate its appeal. Upon a reread, I think I finally see it.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” 

Stephen Chbosky

What worked for me

Feeling infinite: in all the teenage-centric books I’ve ever read, this had one of the most interesting views on memories. Instead of describing a so-called ‘perfect day’ , the author repeatedly shows how we remember specific moments in all their brilliance. I’ve certainly felt the same: memories where I forgot adolescence is fleeting, where every part of me lived in the moment. In addition, this method helped keep the book brief, and thereby impactful the whole read through. The moment of feeling infinite is both the book’s best scene, and a cementing moment of the central friendship.

Inconclusiveness: move aside, happy ending – this novel takes a unique stance on how best to conclude a coming-of-age story. Since it heavily features romance, I was expecting the classic ‘boy gets with girl and they ride off into the sunset together’ ending. I was pleasantly surprised in that: it’s clear that the main character is not only continuing to learn, but “both happy and sad at the same time“, come the end of the novel. It feels like we only saw an excerpt of a story; he feels like a real person, whose life existed before the novel, and will continue long after.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” 

Stephen Chbosky

And… what didn’t

Abusive relationships: the above quote is used at a point in the book to explain why a character stayed in an abusive relationship. Beautiful as it is, this use of it is incredibly problematic. The main character, who this is explained to, is not a child. He’s fifteen years old at the time, and this is far too old to be limiting your understanding of intimate relationship abuse to something so glib and simplistic. If a book brings up such nuanced issues, they ought to be addressed with the suitable gravitas.

The idea of a wallflower: this one was such a glaring issue that it blinded me at first to the book’s virtues. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve seen a plot line revolve around an introvert ‘discovering themselves’ by becoming more social. This is simply not how the world works. Chbosky’s emphasis on ‘participating’ is certainly noble, but it’s implied to be done exclusively through parties and dances, dates and hang-outs. Instead, a single friendship scene could’ve been cut in order to show a more real experience: this shy student discovering new hobbies and talents, and coming into himself individually, and as a friend.

Final review: 3.5/5 stars