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

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.

Goodreads

What is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo about?

In the beginning, this book is about reclusive actress Evelyn Hugo finally agreeing to do a profile for a magazine after years of denying the press. But when she specifically requests Monique–a talented but low ranking writer–it becomes clear this is another one of Evelyn’s calculations. She reveals to Monique that what she really wants is to tell her story, exactly as it happened, to someone whom she can trust will put it into the world after she is gone. Monique knows she’s been handed the story of a lifetime, one that will make her exceedingly rich, but she also knows that Evelyn is scheming underneath it all. She just doesn’t know what the plan is.

Genre: Historical/Contemporary Fiction

This book doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, really. Much of the story is from Evelyn’s perspective as she narrates her past, going over events in her life with extreme care and detail. There is the aspect of parallel storytelling in some ways, as Monique often relates the events of her present as well and how her conversations with Evelyn make her feel about how her life is going.

Tropes: Telling My Side of the Story

As seen with the frequent newspaper headlines scattered throughout the book, Evelyn’s story has been told incorrectly many times. Tabloids and gossipers have always been trying to shape Evelyn’s narrative, but as it turns out she has been in control nearly the whole time. Having Monique write a true biography of her is just the next step.

Plot: Hollywood Starlet Goes Big or Goes Home

One of Evelyn’s defining characteristics is that she doesn’t regret the things she had to do to get what she wanted. She acknowledges that many of them were manipulative, greedy, or wrong in one way or another. There are very few things she wishes she had done differently, and fewer things she lingers on years past.

The Good

This book was full of surprises! The insightful nature of Monique’s relationship with Evelyn, the revelation that Evelyn is bisexual (very early on), and the descriptions of Evelyn’s various relationships were all excellent and functioned within the story. There are notes of tragedy, romance, and comedy all wrapped into one. I appreciated Evelyn’s straight forward assessment of herself, how she never really doubted what she wanted or how she was going to get it. The moments of chaos in her life were all the result of someone else’s choices, and she managed to sweep nearly all of those consequences away.

The Okay

I do wish a little more time was spent getting to know Monique. The story is, of course, primarily about Evelyn. But we get small glimpses into Monique’s life and see how she employs the lessons she learns from Evelyn. I wish we had seen a little more of her present, and gotten a bit more out of Monique’s character as a whole.

The Bad

I didn’t find the twist at the end very compelling. If anything, I thought it was rather convenient and contrived, solely there for a degree of shock value. I think the story would have functioned perfectly fine without it. Monique’s life would have been fairly on the same trajectory, Evelyn could have had an easier reason for picking Monique as her writer, and it all would have still ended neatly.

Final Thoughts

Despite not enjoying the twist at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love Evelyn’s style and story, and I was pleasantly surprised by how often they address LGBTQ+ history in the pages of the book. Monique was a fun character, and I do wish I’d gotten more of her story in the present, but what we did get was delightful. I think Evelyn has plenty of life lessons to share with everybody, and a fascinating and rich personal history that will intrigue most historical fiction fans. While inspiration was clearly taken from real historical starlets, if anything this makes the reading experience more fun–being able to pick out moments where Evelyn’s story lines up with say Elizabeth Taylor’s feels like finding a hidden clue. This book is intriguing, fun, witty, and doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the tragedy, the heartbreak, and the fear that comes with life.

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By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

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