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 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.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid was published by Simon Schuster Audio on June 13th 2017.
Trigger warnings; domestic violence, dubious sexual consent, adultery, drunk driving, period typical homophobia, depression, mentions of suicide, adultery, blackmail, abortion, and drug and alcohol abuse.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the book everyone has been talking about, and I’ve yet to see a negative or mixed review for it. Adult novels aren’t really my genre of choice, but with all the hype surrounding Evelyn Hugo I found I had to check it out for myself. Despite all the praise it was getting I didn’t go into this book with high expectations, or any expectations really, but I was hooked from the start and by the end completely blow away after reading Evelyn’s story.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “You’re absolutely right. I should have asked you how you identify instead of assuming I knew. So let me try again. Are you prepared to come out, in the pages of this book, as a bisexual woman?”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is in a word incredible, and it’s in the running for my favourite book of 2019. Everyone has heard of Evelyn Hugo, the Hollywood icon famous for her films and infamous for her seven husbands. When she decides to auction off some of her iconic dresses to raise money for cancer organisations she also decides to do an interview, the first in years, and she picks an unknown magazine reporter for the job.
Monique had the opportunity of a life-time handed to her when she goes to Evelyn, expecting to write a short article on the charity auction and is instead offered the story of Evelyn’s whole life to be published as a biography after her death. Evelyn promises by the end of their time together Monique will have all the answers she needs to write Evelyn’s story, and as to the reason Evelyn chose her to write it.
While The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is told through two POVs, Monique’s and Evelyn’s, the bulk of the book focuses on Evelyn and her past, and she really steals the show throughout the story. Evelyn’s story is split into seven sections, one for each of her seven husbands, and we also get snippets from magazine articles detailing key moments of Evelyn’s life, told through the eyes of the reporters.
“I love you so much, sweetheart. So, so much. And it’s in part because of things like that. You’re an idealist and a romantic, and you have a beautiful soul. And I wish the world was ready to be the way you see it. I wish that the rest of the people on earth with us were capable of living up to your expectations. But they aren’t.”
At the start of her story Evelyn was a determined character, but in some ways she was still innocent as well. Evelyn is very determined and ruthless in her ambition, and very good at reading and manipulating people to get what she wants. She did things very few other young teens would to get out of her small town and to make it as an actress but once she made it she was sure she’d get her happy ending with her second husband, the first husband she married for love, Don.
Evelyn wasn’t always an easy character to identify or sympathise with. She did some horrible things to get what she wanted, and she hurt the people she loved with many of her actions which she insisted were ‘for them’. Not all of her decisions were ethical but my heart broke for her reading everything she went through; when she lost her career after divorcing her second husband, when she lost the great love of her life to a mistake she made and when she lost all of the people she loved to their deaths.
In all her years and through all her husband’s there was only one person Evelyn loved, the great love of her life (no spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet). The relationship between Evelyn and the great love of her life was so raw. They had to hide their relationship for fear of what other people would say, for fear of being ruined, imprisoned or even killed. They never had the freedom to love one another as freely as they would have liked, even towards the end of their lives.
Evelyn looks at me with purpose. “Do you understand what I’m telling you? When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.”
While Monique doesn’t shine through as brightly as Evelyn in his book her character development was still important. She’s been beaten down by life, she’s in the middle of a divorce and stuck in a job where her full potential isn’t being utilised. The opportunity Evelyn is giving her could make her, though like everyone else she has no idea why she was requested.
As Monique listens to Evelyn’s story we see her grow into herself, gaining more confidence. Faced with Evelyn’s problems and with Evelyn’s great love she realises some things about her own life and her own relationship in comparison. Monique does feel for Evelyn, but Evelyn doesn’t want her sympathy. Evelyn isn’t trying to be friends with Monique, she wants to help her and giving her her story is one way to do that, because Evelyn knows the real reason Monique is sitting opposite her and she knows when she tells Monique it will change everything.
“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.”
There were plenty of happy years in Evelyn’s story, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is not a happy book. The joyful moments are somewhat tainted because Evelyn telling the story knows what happens next, know how she ruins the small pockets of happiness she has. As we follow Evelyn’s story through the years she can admit she made a lot of mistakes, everything she did she did for love and now she’s the only one left alive, but she’s not apologetic for anything she’s done. She may wish she did some things differently but she doesn’t regret the choices she made.
“Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that.”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is definitely not a light or easy to read story, just looking at the trigger warnings I included at the beginning of my review should be enough to tell you that, but it’s one I was wholly absorbed by. Both Evelyn and Monique were stand-out characters, but Evelyn really stole the show and the book. I loved her character, loved seeing her grow and felt for her even when I didn’t agree with or understand her actions. Even if the adult genre isn’t one you reach for make the time to check out this book, because it’s just incredible.
Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, or is it still on your TBR list?
What did you think of this book and which part of Evelyn’s story broke your heart the most? Did you see the reason she asked Monique to write her story coming, or were you as blindsided as I was?
Have you read any of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s other releases, which is your favourite?