The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 31 May 2018
Genre: Adult contemporary/historical fiction
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a book I’ve been hearing about over the past year or so. Trusted blogging pals have absolutely loved this book — in fact it seems like everyone is loves this book. I love all things old Hollywood, so I was eager to see what this book was all about.
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 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 through the decades—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.
Although this book is a split-time narrative, we spend most of it in Evelyn’s world. From the Hollywood backlots of the 1940’s, to the sweeping epic films of the 1960’s, to the AIDS crisis in the 80’s, Reid manages to cover decades of time in a concise and compact way. She really builds an incredibly vivid world and it’s so easy to fall into the glitz and glamour of Evelyn Hugo’s life. I actually caught myself reaching for my phone to google the images and events described in the book — it all felt so incredibly real. While the past is beautifully built and written in this book, I really feel like the present day timeline was lacking. It’s obviously the less important of the two, and well, it really felt like it. I had almost no interest in Monique, her mess of a life, or the great secret that Hugo was dangling over her. When people look back on this book, I don’t think they’re not going to remember the present day timeline at all, and I think that’s just a sign that Reid just wasn’t as interested in telling this part of the story.
Evelyn Hugo is, of course, the star of the show. She is a combination of Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Elizabeth Taylor, with a dash of other old Hollywood starlets. Monique describes how Hugo commands a room and it really comes through in the narrative. She dominates the narrative with her strong voice, convictions, and her strange, yet rigid moral code. While Hugo is not a woman most of us would admire when learn about the choices she has made, there’s something so refreshing about a woman who is so unapologetically cutthroat and will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. I think what works so well with Hugo’s characterisation is the fact that she is so unapologetic. She stands by every decision she has ever made, whether it hurts her or the ones she loves, and truly believes in what she’s doing. She’s a brilliant morally grey character and through her we see the darker side of fame and fortune. She’s someone who will stick with me for a long time.
A side effect of Hugo being such an amazing and strong character is that everyone else is a little dull by comparison. From Monique in the present to Celia in the past, Reid just doesn’t capture any other character in quite the same way. They’re really all just pawns in Hugo’s life, which honestly works so well with the story. The only character who stood out to me was Harry, Hugo’s lifelong best friend. I truly believed in their relationship and enjoyed his time on the page. Everyone else? Well, they’re pretty forgettable.
I really enjoyed this book because of the strong world building and Evelyn’s voice and character. It’s a great summertime read that is fast-paced and sure to sweep you away, whether you’re a classic film fan or not.
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