Title: Advika and the Hollywood Wives
Author: Kirthana Ramisetti
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: April 11, 2023
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
At age 26, Advika Srinivasan considers herself a failed screenwriter. To pay the bills and keep her mind off of the recent death of her twin sister, she’s taken to bartending A-list events, including the 2015 Governors Ball, the official afterparty of the Oscars. There, in a cinematic dream come true, she meets the legendary Julian Zelding—a film producer as handsome as Paul Newman and ten times as powerful—fresh off his fifth best picture win. Despite their 41-year age difference, Advika falls helplessly under his spell, and their evening flirtation ignites into a whirlwind courtship and elopement. Advika is enthralled by Julian’s charm and luxurious lifestyle, but while Julian loves to talk about his famous friends and achievements, he smoothly changes the subject whenever his previous relationships come up. Then, a month into their marriage, Julian’s first wife—the famous actress Evie Lockhart—dies, and a tabloid reports a shocking stipulation in her will. A single film reel and $1,000,000 will be bequeathed to “Julian’s latest child bride” on one condition: Advika must divorce him first.
Shaken out of her love fog and still-simmering grief over the loss of her sister—and uneasy about Julian’s sudden, inexplicable urge to start a family—Advika decides to investigate him through the eyes and experiences of his exes. From reading his first wife’s biography, to listening to his second wife’s confessional albums, to watching his third wife’s Real Housewives-esque reality show, Advika starts to realize how little she knows about her husband. Realizing she rushed into the marriage for all the wrong reasons, Advika uses the info gleaned from the lives of her husband’s exes to concoct a plan to extricate herself from Julian once and for all.
What did I just read?
Last year, I read author Kirthana Ramisetti’s debut novel, Dava Shastri’s Last Day, and absolutely loved it. Naturally, when I saw she had a new book, I had to grab a copy.
Let’s just say expectations were high. So you can imagine the letdown when I realized that this new book makes no sense.
In Advika and the Hollywood Wives, 26-year-old Advika is mired in grief and loneliness two years after the tragic death of her twin sister Anu, especially once their parents, deep in their own mourning, pack up and move back to India. Advika is left alone in LA, working random bartending jobs to pay the bills and struggling to fulfill her earlier promise as a screenwriter. While tending bar at a post-Oscars party, her life is changed when five-time Oscar-winning producer Julian Zelding approaches her, instantly smitten.
A whirlwind romance, full of luxury gifts and romantic getaways, assuages Advika’s deep need to fill the void in her life, and within months of meeting him, she finds herself agreeing to marry this much older, very wealthy and powerful man.
Doubts creep in — hard and fast — when tabloids blast news about Julian’s first wife, recently deceased, whose will provides a $1 million bequest to Julian’s newest “child bride”, on condition that she divorce him. For Advika, this strange offer ignites a need to learn more about Julian’s three past marriages, and the more she digs, the more convinced she becomes of her need to escape his clutches.
Where to even begin to pick this all apart? Advika goes into the relationship and marriage with her eyes open, except when she’s being willfully ignorant. For example, Julian asks her early on not to Google him, so she doesn’t. Really? There’s no way it makes sense for this smart Millennial* not to do at least a drop of research on the older guy trying to shower her with money.
*For whatever reason — yet another thing that doesn’t make sense to me — the story is set in 2015, rather than now. I was going to describe Advika as Gen Z, but given the year the book is set, that would make her a Millenial. Same issues re technology and Googling apply!
Advika lets herself get totally wrapped up in Julian’s world and blocks out everyone she’s known previously — by her own free will. And as he attempts to control more and more of her life, and she suspects that her actions are probably being monitored by Julian’s household staff, she stays, and stays, and stays.
But really, Advika seems pretty okay with her marriage until the news about the first wife’s will comes out. She may not be in love with Julian, but she’s attracted to him and enjoys their affluent lifestyle. She interprets the first wife’s strange offer as a warning, basically Evie trying to save Advika, but honestly? I assumed that it was Evie’s way of getting a smidge of revenge on her ex by wrecking his newest marriage and exposing him to tabloid gossip. (It turns out that Advika is correct about Evie’s intentions, but that doesn’t mean it’s at all logical for Advika to jump to that conclusion!)
It’s as if Advika’s eyes are opened to the fact that she married a man she doesn’t actually know or love. As she researches his former wives, she uncovers some truths about how controlling he was in all of those relationships… but why does she need this research before making a move? Why, once she realized she was unhappy and wanted out, would she not simply have left? She was never a prisoner. She was never physically prevented from leaving their home. She’s be leaving behind all the money, jewels, and fancy cars, so is it just about the money? But that’s not how Advika’s struggle is presented — her life is depicted as if she’s trapped. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!
There’s an epilogue with a totally obvious reveal… and that’s about it. Clunky writing, plot points that seem to be building toward much more dramatic revelations, pointless mention of people and items that seem like they could be clues (but end up not mattering), and awkward realizations about how she fails repeatedly to be a good friend — there’s just so much here that doesn’t work. The story tries to build tension around whether Advika is being followed and electronically monitored, and what really happened with Julian’s former wives, but ultimately, it mostly amounts to not much at all.
What a disappointment. This book feels unpolished and half-baked. Any initial sympathy for Advika evaporates quickly, and we’re left following a young woman who can’t make a decision and doesn’t understand the basic give-and-take of real friendship. I read Advika and the Hollywood Wives very quickly, mainly because I kept waiting to see when the big pay-off would appear. (It doesn’t.) So, I guess the most positive thing I can say is that it kept my attention… just not really for great reasons.