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. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means–and what it costs–to face the truth.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an absorbing and addictive read, which paints such a vivid picture of old Hollywood, with all its many highs and lows. Taylor Jenkins Reid totally transports us back in time to a world of glitzy premieres, with lavish descriptions of the glamorous gowns and the scandalous goings on of film icons and kept me hooked the entire time. Any time I put the book down, I was eager to return to the story and find out the next piece of the puzzle and more about the enigmatic and enchanting Evelyn Hugo.
The novel is divided into two perspectives; Monique and Evelyn. We follow Monique in present day as she interviews Evelyn and flash back to large intervals where we get to read Evelyns story. There are also sub sections, with each one having a different ‘husband’ addressed. Not only was this a great way to split the story up and make it digestible but it was a through line to the title of the book and has even more significance once you reach the end of the novel and it all comes full circle. I would also like to make it clear, that despite the novel mentioning the seven husbands, this is first and foremost Evelyns story of struggle, success, eventual happiness, heartbreak and loss amongst other things.
I loved the way that the curtain was lifted and as a reader you get a frank and honest insight into the world of Hollywood and what that world is like for a young woman, especially a young woman of colour. In recent years women in the film and showbiz industry have been more vocal and rightly so, about the impossible expectations, sexual harassment and other issues they face, so Evelyns story felt even more current and relevant. It was so sad to read as she feels like she has to disregard her Cuban heritage in order to be more palatable for the mainstream media and I think this struggle with race and identity will really resonate with readers. I also found it so powerful that female sexuality and the male gaze is approached in a very real and unflinching way. The novel portrays the impossible position women are in; to be sexy but not too sexy, to be ‘good’ but not too ‘good’ and above all to cater to mens whims and desires.
“…do yourself a favor and learn to grab life by the balls, dear. Don’t be so tied up in trying to do the right thing when the smart thing is so painfully clear.”
We read as Evelyn struggles with her identity in a variety of ways, and this was done with such care and consideration. I loved that she doesn’t fit into neat boxes of what a woman or female character should be and that she takes full ownership of her choices and has agency. The whole point of the book is that she is taking control of her story and being honest, after a lifetime of false narratives and other peoples expectations being thrust upon her. While she doesn’t always make the ‘right’ or ‘easy’ choices, she is flawed and messy but you can’t help but feel for Evelyn and like her anyway. I felt so much empathy for her and I love that I have never read another character like her, she is truly one of a kind! Jenkins Reid has done such a brilliant job with this character.
As well as the very real issues the novel tackles, I also enjoyed the cast of characters we get introduced to, some of whom we grow to love dearly and others who are much less likeable, but still important to the story. I loved reading as a lifelong friendship develops between Evelyn and Harry Cameron, who is one of the first people to believe in her and who genuinely cares for her, without wanting something in return. They have one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve had the pleasure to read, and I think everyone deserves to have at least one person in their lives who understands them the way these characters understand, support and respect each other. It goes without saying, but Harry was definitely my favourite of the seven husbands.
“If there are all different types of soul mates,” I told Harry one afternoon, when the two of us were sitting out on the patio with Connor, “then you are one of mine.”
Underneath all the scandals and the seven marriages, which each have their own interesting origin story, the burning question on everyones mind is the obvious; who was the great love of Evelyns life? The answer, when we get it, is one of the most gorgeous love stories to ever grace the page. Evelyn and Celia St James first meet on the set of a movie they are starring in together, while they’re both unsure of the other at first but eventually they strike up a genuine friendship which develops into a lifelong love.
“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.”
I also really loved the focus on family within the novel, and this is not always biological either. I’m a total sucker for the found family trope and the little unit that Evelyn creates for herself is so sweet to read about. I think this will be such an encouraging thing for readers who have difficult relationships or associations with family and shows that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Evelyn is also such a great mother to her daughter Connor, which was super heartwarming and there’s some truly beautiful moments they share within the story which highlight this close bond.
Overall, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was a truly enjoyable read, not only was it thoroughly entertaining but it also had so much heart and depth. I loved the writing style and the unexpected directions and twists the story took. I would definitely recommend this book to any reader searching for a new exciting read, I think it will really surprise you, in the best way imaginable!
Until next time,