Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
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.
Written with Reid’s signature talent for creating “complex, likable characters” (Real Simple), this 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.
Trigger/Content Warnings: death of a loved one, death of a child, suicide, unhealthy dieting, underage sex, abortion, talk of miscarriage, physical abuse, cheating, dunk driving, homophobia, biphobia, racism, divorce.
In present day, Evelyn Hugo is a Cuban retired Hollywood movie icon renowned for her seven husbands. Despite being asked dozens of times over the years, Evelyn managed to maintain some privacy around her marriages. Yet she is now ready to tell all but only to one Monique Grant.
Monique is a biracial middle-aged reporter who recently split from her husband. Nothing in her life is going how she wants it. But when Evelyn requests her to write her biography, Monique begins to question what she wants from life and what she is willing to do to accomplish it.
Prior to reading this book, I had already formed an idea of who Evelyn was. She was rich and privileged. She was a starlet. She coasted through an easy life. She married for money and fame. She did not love the men she married. I was completely and utterly wrong, and have never been more grateful for it!
Evelyn Hugo is a complex character, mainly because she is in character even off the screen. She is a bisexual Cuban woman from Hell’s Kitchen pretending to be what the public sees, a rich, white woman. This duality creates a lot of conflict in Evelyn’s personal life, even if she doesn’t understand why.
Evelyn is completely unapologetic. She does what she feels is best, even if others may look down on her. Rather than let others decide what to make of her, she plays the role she wants them to see to manipulate the narrative. Evelyn is synonymous with ambition. She will do anything for the power and recognition she lacked in her youth., including lying and capitalizing on her beauty. Maybe you don’t agree with her decisions or methods, but you can’t help but admire how bold she is. Once she knows what she wants, she is relentless in her pursuit. Even as she is bold, she is also soft. When she gives her love and trust, she gives it completely.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo tackles on a variety of topics and messages, almost too much, but not too much. Race. Ethnicity. Sexuality. Identity. Immigration. History. Civil Rights. Friendship. Love. Family. Simultaneously, Taylor Jenkins Reid challenges us to think about the objectification of women, double standards, gender roles, Hollywood’s perpetuation of misogony, romantic relationships, discrimination, assimilation, prejudice, ‘typing’ roles, what we give up by conforming, cost of our ambition. She highlights triumph amidst the harsh reality we live in. Believe it or not but I have only touched upon half of what you can find inside the 400 pages The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
Taylor Jenkins Reid brilliantly interweaves these two stories in order to discuss what we are willing to do for what we want. She paints Evelyn Hugo, a woman who knows what she wants and will do anything to accomplish it, against Monique, a woman who knows what she wants but isn’t sure if the sacrifices are worth it. I am so grateful I read this book at this point in my life. It has allowed me to rediscover myself and redefine my path.
I only recently realized that I identify as bisexual. I cried at the wonderful representation and the implied commentary about the discrimination that bisexuals have even in the LGBTQIA+ community, especially for those who, like myself, have a preference for men.
“I was a lesbian when she loved me and a straight woman when she hated me.”
I saw myself in Evelyn. She was capable of loving men and women. Even though she loved more men than women, it does not make her any less bisexual. It does not cheapen the love she had for her female partner.
This is the second of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novels that I have listened to. If you have not picked up these titles, I highly recommend the audio version first. Not only is there a full cast that fills life into each of the characters, but it best reflects the interview-like vibe that this book has. I now invite you to check it out from your library, borrow, or buy a copy and learn to live unapologetically like Evelyn.