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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Modern Magic: a short story

Do be sure to take the poll at the end of this story!

I know what you must be thinking – super-powered abilities really aren’t run of the mill. So why am I using mine to fix such a… mundane issue? Well, what you must understand is that at this point in my life, I was sure I’d perfected the art of the waking. Roll out of bed, brush your teeth, wash your face. Bundle up warm for the frighteningly cold day, and the rest is an graceful dance in the pursuit of getting out the door at around the speed of light. 

Then rush out the building, not taking the time to savour the redolent bakery. I should’ve known I would still be late – it’s just that it’s far too easy to become so reliant on your abilities, that you forget how life was before them. I made it only about halfway to campus before realising I was set on an inevitable crash course for lateness and one of my professor’s world-renowned lectures. A quick pause and a glance at my inner city surroundings showed the perfect solution.

A second later, I’d ducked into a nearby narrow alley – truly the kind of place where a movie character would get ambushed and assaulted. After a brief check around me to confirm that wasn’t not the case, I yanked my gloves off and splayed my fingers. My fingers warmed as they moved in a circular motion, and I was once again treated to the sight of the people walking backwards on the streets. Cars seemed to reverse in a perfectly orderly fashion, and any passengers must’ve been talking backwards. I pulled out my phone with my other hand and watched the time tick back 8 minutes, 9, 10… I dropped my hands abruptly and pulled back on my gloves.

Being a superhero is rather fun – if you use your powers right; why strain yourself fighting crime when you could ensure you had a little extra time to finish your homework? After all, the snooze button has nothing on the ability to grant yourself some well-deserved rest, out of time’s linear path. I meandered far more cheerfully to school with those thoughts swirling, confident in the knowledge that I would arrive with time to spare. I shoved my jittery hands into my pockets – surely, every power must come at a price – and people-watch as I strolled along.

How peculiar, I thought, that those people were at my mercy, with no knowledge of it. The woman across the street with her grocery list a foot long had probably already bought her items, and was altogether none the wiser. It would have been, enough to give most people a god complex! Lucky my ego wasn’t any bigger – My thought was impolitely interrupted when a petite girl rounded a corner, directly into me.

“Yo, watch where you’re going!” She neatly ignored me, and continued on her path – backwards? She back-pedalled across the sidewalk, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. I reached out to grab her shoulder, and not a second too late: her unconventional path was ready to take her directly onto the busy road. “What the hell are you doing?” She pulled out her earphones huffily, and looked at me with keen eyes.

My heart skipped a nervous beat; it felt far too coincidental for me to have met a crazy girl walking backwards just moments after I had used my power. Whatever she found in her scan of my face was clearly unsatisfactory, as she demurred, “Nothing, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks, I guess.” She nodded her chin nonchalantly at the road that I saved her from. 

Her easy dismissal lit a flicker of indignation in my chest. “Try me, Miss Condescending.”

Fumbling to untangle her earphones from her jet-black mane of hair (and looking decidedly comical), she turned and glared. “Really? You wanna hear it from the crazy girl? Some idiot is messing with this timeline, and they just reset this day. Not by much, I assume, only by a couple-” I clamped a hand over her mouth quickly, and her wide eyes were the only notice I got before she starts yelling to “Get this crazy boy off!”

A woman stopped and stared disapprovingly, apparently judging it a petty lover’s quarrel. With my thoughts slowly leaving ‘fight-or-flight’, I dropped my hand, only to catch the piercing look the crazy girl speared me with. I was entirely unsurprised and only a little resistant when she started dragging me somewhere. When I noticed she was taking me to the same shady alley, a sneaking ironic feeling of déjà vu crawled up my spine. Definitely not a coincidence.

“I can walk by myself,” I grumbled, shucking her vice-like grip. Nonetheless, she waited for me to go ahead, and I had the jarring realisation that I was about to be interrogated.

True to form, she didn’t beat around the bush, forcing me into the alley away from prying eyes, only to whisper-scream, “It’s you, isn’t it? The time-traveller? What the hell are you thinking?”

An idle part of me wondered if she was part of an undercover operation to root out secret superheroes, and what the benefits might have been of employing a young, cute, female agent for that. “Yes, yes, and I doubt I was thinking. Why should I? It’s my power, to use however I want.” Her mouth fell open, eyes clearly showing her scathing judgement. Instinctively, my arms crossed and I continued, “What’s it to you, anyway? What are you, a-” I lost his train of thought in accusing her of being a cop – or more accurately, I jumped off my train of thought and collided head-first with another. “Are you like me? A superhero?” 

Head ducked, she snorted softly, sending another indignant stab rushing through me. “I mean, superhero is one word for it, but…” She pulled off her gloves and I watched as her fingers flutter over the ground. Where once there was only frost shards, she brought up a plant stem, as if in hyper-speed.

It was my turn to be unimpressed. “Your power is growing weeds. In a city. You do realise you have the least useful superpower in the history of anyone, right?” Her gaze snapped up and I barely had time to register her movement before the shoot moved to wrap itself around my foot. “Hey! Stop that!” I stumbled backwards and put my hands up in as conciliatory a gesture as I can manage, considering she just tried to entrap me. 

“Oh, relax. It wouldn’t affect you.” Her statement was punctuated with a small smirk that seems to ask, ‘not so useless, huh?’ “Have you stopped any crime? Solved any felonies? What was your reason for using your ‘superpower’ this time?” Her words were dripping so heavily with sarcasm that the air-quotes are implied – her arms were obviously too busy, in actuality, with her passionate arm gestures. I moved back slightly to avoid a hit.

For a moment, I contemplated telling this know-it-all girl that I had prevented a mugging, saved a gunshot victim, stopped a suicide attempt before it even happened. But her eyes bored into me with unwavering principle, and I simply couldn’t speak the words. “I used it because I needed to get to college on time, sue me,” I mumbled instead.

I awaited her verdict, but she was already turning away. “So what’s so heroic about you?” Somehow, her dispassionate response struck harder than a yell. 

I moved to follow her out the alley, though my intentions past that felt suddenly unclear. She’d only just stepped out when a older girl grabbed her by the wrist. “I’ve been looking all over for you, mija!” The new girl held up her hand, showing a tracker app, and for some reason, that sent shivers down my spine. 

The girls looked similar enough that I was unsure on whether to question the new arrival’s presence, but she pulled her ostensible-sister along with long pointy nails digging into her skin. “Hey, wait up!” I ran up to the impatiently waiting girls, and here my planned actions ran out. “I-I’ve never met someone – someone like me before, and since I don’t know-” The elder sister only rolled her doe eyes and continued storming away. Miss Condescending, previously so animated, seemed to have lost her fire.

“Why do you always have to act like this?

My feet paused at the mouth of the alley, apprehensive about what might have been my first real decision of the morning – or perhaps, even longer. It was more instinctive that time to pull off my gloves and whip out my powers. I didn’t even need my phone this time: I continue until she’s back in the alley, looking self-righteous as she should be, and her seedling had shrunken again. Her eyes stayed wide-open the whole time, and I realised that I had forgotten to ask her of the crucial question of how she knew she had time-travelled.

When her movements were her own again (she flexed her fingers to check this), her breathing slowed and she straightened up. “That was risky.”

“What was?” I said, peering out onto the street. 

“You didn’t know if I would remember you what happened after the rewind. You didn’t know if I wanted to rewind.”

“Didn’t you?”

She took my out-stretched hand and we hurtled down the street in the opposite direction from where her sister had come, and would come again. “Yes.”

“Then it wasn’t a risk at all.”

Her delighted laugh was punctuated with little gasps as she tried to catch her breath. We stopped two blocks from there, leaning against a solid brick wall. She fiddled with her phone for a moment before gazing up at me. “The name’s Mia. You know, in case you were wondering.”

“Jamie.” I continued with as much bravado as I can muster, as if her response didn’t matter, “So, how do you feel about teaching me how to be an honest-to-god superhero?” 

She laughed, and started walking away. For a split second, I was certain she’ll keep walking, but she turned back with a grin. “First lesson, keep up…”

Is Romeo and Juliet the Greatest Love Story of All Time?

This photograph by Michael Daniel is of the Public Theater showing of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It is one of multiple film and theatre adaptations of the popular novel.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: a romantic fantasy that has stood the test of time and has been deemed a worthy read by the toughest critics; however, the conclusion of this epic saga brings the gruesome deaths of two adolescents and four others, thus begging the question – is it even a love story at all? While the author’s writing was exemplary and ahead of its time, certain key facts diminish how romantic and fantastical the adventure can be considered…

Firstly, what images does your mind conjure up when you think of a thirteen year-old girl? Innocence, probably, tinged with the colour pink. Passionate love – probably not. In this day and age, marriage between a thirteen year-old and sixteen year-old is considered scandalous and taboo, if not downright abhorrent. “There is nothing romantic or loving about this play, just lust, hormones, and teenage rebellion” is one reader’s firm opinion. Furthermore, many believe that the author was actually mocking the impetousness of teenage decisions rather than illustrating the beauty of “love’s light wings”. The only fact contradictory to this is that at the time of publication, both Romeo and Juliet would have been considered to be at a marriageable age. This toys with the notion that superficial characteristics can upstage the vast, magnificent idea of love, as the play shows nothing if not that true love should trump it all; these teenagers that let nothing stand between them and believe that love is worth death are the archetype of this ideal. After all, age is but a number.

Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor and Park, another ‘modern teenage romance’, provides her own opinion in the aforementioned book, by asking why it is that Romeo and Juliet has weathered the storm of time, to which the eponymous Park replies, “Because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?” William Shakespeare’s famous love story is evocative of an ardour that most associate with their passionate youth – while teenage love may be short-sighted, it is still a sentimental memory for most adults – a nostalgic feeling held close to the heart. Another popular author of a young adult book stated that “adults love in different ways, not the only way.” This is something that Romeo and Juliet teaches its audience time and time again. After all, how many millions of teenagers believe that their beloved “is the sun”?

Rosaline and Romeo’s love: one we get nary a glimpse at apart from at the very beginning of the play, in which Romeo talks about Rosaline, saying “she’s fair I love”. This is just lines before he meets Juliet and promptly forgets about the girl, whose praises he had been singing. This entire encounter far from romanticises Romeo and Juliet’s relationship, instead casting a suspect comparison with the similarly ill-fated love of Romeo and Rosaline and encouraging the audience to question: was Romeo ever in love with Juliet, or was it just ‘puppy love’, a meaningless infatuation? The depth of his emotions towards Juliet is immediately put into question, especially when he is willing to throw the word ‘love’ around so casually. Showing a fickle love interest is detrimental to the telling of this grand story; if Romeo was to lose his heart so thoroughly to Rosalind, only to forget her moments later, who is to say he wouldn’t have done the same to Juliet given the chance?

Closely associated with the idea of Romeo’s ridiculous recklessness, is the possibility that the entire play was intended as satirical comedy. Satire is characterised by the ironic parodying and subversion of the quintessential tropes of a popular genre – in this case romance – and many elements of Shakespeare’s ‘great love story’ seem to do this. Eleanor, Eleanor and Park’s other protagonist, isn’t as convinced of the play’s charms: “Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they want. And now, they think they want each other”. Supported by the fact that Shakespeare’s humour often scorns his own characters (see: Mercutio’s cruel pun on his own death), it is entirely possible, and very probable to many, that this entire drama solely serves to highlight and mock the luckless decisions our captivating teenagers made due to the misguided bravery, or idiocy, that often accompanies passion. 

Teenage rebellion is a key source of ignorance and stubbornness in the world, but is it conceivable that Juliet’s hasty head-over-heels love was simply another of its effects? A metaphorical statement is declared to the audience by Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. The purpose of this quote is to remind the audience that Juliet’s passion was not due to the pain that this particular boy caused her family, nor to the inane impulsivity of young nonconformity, thus setting the stage to introduce love as the mythical force behind their infatuation. It does not matter to Juliet that her Romeo is a Montague: their attraction is all that she allows to influence her decisions. 

It is undeniable that there has been a recent rise in stories mistakenly suggesting that the price of love is pain (whether this is emotional, such as in The Fault in our Stars, or physical, such as in Fifty Shades of Grey), but this idea has been around for centuries. The play Romeo and Juliet poses the issue of whether romance can be diminished by the toll it takes on its recipients – is their love diminished by the price they paid? More significantly, it must be considered that their motivation for loving each other may in fact have been a fundamental psychological need to torture themselves in relationships that would inevitably end tragically. 

This is a tragic tale in which the two “star-cross’d lovers” are destined to be apart, kept away by family, social constructs and, eventually, death, and that is why some people love it whilst many others detest it. As the world’s style of literature and entertainment evolves, modern love stories (or as they are now called, ‘romantic comedies’) are most commonly found at the other end of Shakespeare’s writing spectrum: comedies. A typical Shakespearean comedic ending, just like a contemporary love story, would have a happy ending in which the blessed couple would marry – as we have clearly seen is not the case with Romeo and Juliet. Simply put, the fact that our two suitors did not get their happily ever after sets modern audiences ablaze rather than eliciting dreamy sighs. This is a love affair that bucks traditional stereotypes of love necessarily leading to a happy ending, a volatile entanglement with high stakes that only make the tale all the more intense. Most importantly, the fact that the play ends at the height of their passion ensures the audience never has to witness their falling ‘out of love’ – their story will never tarnish.

Though readers’s impressions are important, it’s also crucial to consider the real-life implications of considering a gory tragedy the greatest love story in history. One such implication is adolescent suicides in the name of love; Victoria Kish-Donovan and Raymond Oswell, two young British lovers, 19 and 24 respectively when they first met, are just two examples of delusional souls who (seemingly unable to be together, and believing it to be a fitting end to true love) made arguably reckless decisions and ended their own lives, leaving behind grieving parents, siblings and children. Despite the fact that their story is not quite as famous, the fact that it is non-fictitious just makes it all the more tragic and taints the undeniable adoration of the many masses for the play. 

Whether or not you consider the ending fitting, or the characters unbelievably spectacular, it is at its heart a shocking and astounding love story that withstood the test of time due to the fact that it astounds with every new page. It accurately shows just how young minds, including the darkest and most undisclosed parts, think, and gives an unforgettable rendition of how teenagers can not only fall in love, but change their worlds as they do it. Repetition of astronomical references (particularly the wishes for a night never-ending) cast them in a sympathetic light: the control they seek over their universe and their story is, alas, just beyond their grasp.