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

Rating

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.

When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

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“People don’t find it very sympathetic or endearing, a woman who puts herself first.”

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is one of those books that I don’t feel adept to write a review for because it is so brilliant and nothing I say will fully capture how much I loved it. But I guess I’ll attempt to write a review anyway.

Hollywood superstar Evelyn Hugo, best known for the seven husbands she had in her lifetime, recants her life. She chooses a magazine reporter named Monique, much to Monique’s own surprise, to write her biography.

And thus Evelyn Hugo’s story begins.

While watching Evelyn’s movies prior to the interview, Monique at one point thinks that “Evelyn always leaves you hoping you’ll get just a little bit more.” Taylor Jenkins Reid does something similar with Evelyn for the readers as well, reveals just enough to keep you guessing, just enough so you can’t look away.

“I was gorgeous, even at fourteen. Oh, I know the whole world prefers a woman who doesn’t know her own power. But I’m sick of that.”

The best way I can describe Evelyn is by her presence – her character fills up the book. She makes selfish and questionable decisions, many to further her own agenda, and she also makes plenty of good ones. You know from the get-go that Evelyn isn’t a “good” person in a black and white sense, she is flawed and human and incredibly compelling. She needed to survive in a deeply racist, sexist and homophobic society so she made decisions that would allow her to do so. I was honestly in awe, I thought Evelyn was one of the strongest characters I’ve ever read.

(Going into slightly spoiler territory now so if you want to read the book knowing nothing about it, don’t keep reading, just know that I could not recommend this book highly enough).

Evelyn has had to overcome so much. As a woman in a very male dominated society, as a Cuban woman in a very white Hollywood, and as a bisexual woman in an extremely homophobic time period. So she makes choices that she sometimes regrets but those are choices she’s had to make to come as far as she did. Hiding her heritage to pass off as white, using her body to capitalize on the misogyny thrown at her and hiding her sexuality because the world isn’t ready for it. Despite the hurdles, she stands back up every time.

The first time Monique asks Evelyn the question, “who was Evelyn Hugo’s great love?” she doesn’t answer. And it keeps you wondering too until the answer hits you.

“They are just husbands. I am Evelyn Hugo. And anyway, I think once people know the truth, they will be much more interested in my wife.”

Going into the book, I didn’t know the main love story was sapphic. A sapphic love story set in 1950’s Hollywood among the two biggest actresses in the United States?? Absolutely beautiful. Evelyn and Celia have quickly become one of my favorite fictional couples of all time. Neither one of them are perfect and neither of them love each other selflessly but they braved the world to be together and that’s so insanely powerful.

There were also some lines in the book that kind of wrecked me a little.

“You imagine a world where the two of you can go out to dinner together on a Saturday night and no one thinks twice about it. It makes you want to cry, the simplicity of it, the smallness of it. You have worked so hard for a life so grand. And now all you want are the smallest freedoms. The daily peace of loving plainly.

I cried some really big tears reading this passage. The truth of it, the need to hide yourself from the world because it’s too much for some people, craving the small simplicities of being able to love someone freely. I found myself relating hard to this old woman with a seemingly glamorous past – a past that was actually riddled with heartbreak and doubt but also love and hope.

There’s so much more I want to say about this book and this character but I lack the language. I very highly recommend picking it up if you haven’t already.

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