If you’re like me, you have a list of things that have captivated the masses – movies, music, that doughnut shop that people line up at dawn for – that you actively avoid precisely because they are so popular. Sitting on my version of that admittedly silly, illogically snobbish list alongside Game of Thrones and Bob Dylan? The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the “Over 1 million copies sold” emblazoned on its cover only serving to repel rather than attract. (And this is despite enjoying everything else Jenkins Read has written since, including the particularly excellent Daisy Jones and the Six. I never said this made sense.)
As with most of these things, the loss was entirely mine. I realized this when I recently capitulated and read Seven Husbands as the book gods intended: In ravenous gulps on vacation, tearing through the pages so quickly I’m sure my Kindle read-time will forever record this an algorithm-breaking outlier. The central premise – an old Hollywood-esque movie star plucks a young journalist out of obscurity to commission her to write an exclusive tell-all biography – is compelling enough, particularly when layered with the hook that this particular screen legend, in the manner of Elizabeth Taylor, has been married a total of – you guessed it – seven times. And yet, as she tells her biographer early on, none of those men were the love of her life. Instead, it has always been, and forever will be, the woman the media thought was her best-friend, a fellow actress who, like Evelyn Hugo, was closeted by the restrictive social attitudes of their day. (This isn’t a spoiler, really, nor is it the book’s only twist.)
While Jenkins Reid isn’t the subtlest of writers – beware clunkers like “knowing there are all different types of great loves out there is enough for me” – she is adept at handling sensitive subject matter (including the nuances of queer identity, and the bargain-with-the-devil fame can be, regardless of who you love), in a way that’s both tender and zippily-plotted. (Evelyn’s got seven husbands to get through, after all!) It’s somehow both meaty and incredibly easy to read, making it clear to see why it’s been catnip for book clubs and beach bags alike.
What makes this bestseller particularly fascinating is why, despite the fact that it was published in 2017, we can still find it somewhere in the top 10 of The Globe and Mail’s paperback fiction list in 2022 – and that’s all down to BookTok. Seven Husbands has been “rediscovered” of late, blessed by the algorithm – and countless videos of readers proclaiming how moved they’d been by it, often in relation to its queer love story – to become one of a growing number of titles (including those by Madeline Miller and Colleen Hoover) that become viral sensations thanks to TikTok.
For Seven Husbands specifically, there’s also an added boost in that the title has been seized upon by the corners of the Internet that likes to build elaborate theories about the speculated sexuality of certain celebrities. “It’s giving Evelyn Hugo” is a common comment to find should you stumble into the comments section of one such extensively “researched” and “proofed” video, claiming [insert famous woman here] has been in a series of secret relationships with women, despite outwardly dating exclusively men. In a way, it feels like a fitting second-life for a book that centres heavily on the celebrity gossip machine and its far-reaching consequences.
And as if this weren’t all enough, earlier this year Netflix announced they had tapped screenwriter Liz Tigelaar to adapt the book into a film, which almost guarantees an even-further-extended stay on the bestseller list, courtesy of the movie-in tie-in edition. Oh, and Jenkins Read’s latest book, Malibu Rising – which actually picks up the story of one of Evelyn’s husbands! – is also a bestseller, which generally translates to a nice backlist bump.
In short? If you’ve been holding out on The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, you probably should just give in and join the crowds. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.
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