Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Spoilers?: Have Caution?
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Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
I have heard so much about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and I can say that it almost, almost lives up to all the hype it’s been getting. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an atmospheric historical fiction set in the golden age of Hollywood, with all the scandal that entails. However, I did have some minor issues with this book, especially in the first half. But then I cried at the end, and any book that can actually make me cry warrants 5 stars from me.
The real standout of this book was the characters. Each and every major character is complex, flawed, and wholly human, and Evelyn Hugo was front and centre. Evelyn is viciously ambitious, determined, and cunning in her climb to stardom. Yet at the same time–she’s caring, loves fiercely, and yearns for a family. Evelyn makes an immense amount of sacrifices for her career, changing her name and hair, getting seen and even marrying the right men, to secure a place for herself in stardom–at the cost of denying her Cuban heritage and tearing her apart from her one true love. It’s a brutal look on how women and queer people are treated in Hollywood, but there are so many amazing people in this book that push through it to live their lives the way they want–Celia St. James, Evelyn’s lifelong lover; Harry, a producer and Evelyn’s best friend. They were so vivid and lively and almost untouchable at the same time while also seeming very human, which is normally very hard to pull off.
I adored the relationships in this book as well. Evelyn and Celia’s ran on and off throughout the whole book, and it surprised me that a book titled The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was so queer. None of Evelyn’s husbands mattered as much as Celia did, and they worked so hard to find happiness together. Even though their relationship had its tense moments because of the difficulties of being queer in Hollywood, it was just so heartwarming and sweet and real. Harry and Evelyn were also wonderful; I love how Evelyn’s relationships show that family doesn’t have to just be a nuclear family, and how dedicated Evelyn is to everyone in her family: from Celia, to Harry, to her daughter Connor. As the book goes on and Evelyn grows older, Evelyn’s dedication to her family ultimately trumps her dedication to her career, and the shift is so subtle because Evelyn remains so determined throughout the whole book.
I cried at the end. I didn’t realize just how invested in the characters I had gotten, even though Evelyn Hugo is comparatively short compared to all the other adult literary fiction that made me want to toss the book out the window. It usually takes me 600+ pages to get really into the characters in a book, but Evelyn Hugo did it in 300. The end crushed me, and I’m fairly stoic and rarely cry, ever. (I didn’t even truly cry at the end of A Little Life, though I did toss the book across the room; I definitely cried more during this book, and the endings were very reminiscent of each other.) I have to commend Reid for managing to craft such an emotional tale out of one that I started out thinking was just glitz and glamour and a rich Hollywood life.
The weakest part of the book was the choice to cut it through with Monique’s story, which I wasn’t invested in at all. It pulled me out of Evelyn’s narrative constantly just when I was getting into it, and as a consequence I didn’t find myself truly invested in the story and Monique until about halfway through–and even then, I felt let down by what linked Monique and Evelyn together because of how much it was hyped up. Had there been less cryptic foreshadowing, I don’t think I would have expected as much from how both of them were linked as I did.
But The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s a fresh new look on a genre that largely ignores the existence of queer people and people of colour and centres them in a narrative where they have existed and will always exist. It mixes up all the glamour of old Hollywood with diverse and vividly real characters who defy the odds given to them, and filled with strong, fierce women who will fight tooth and nail for everything they want and won’t stop until they get it.
“It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.”