I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Also by this author: Maybe in Another Life, One True Loves, After I Do, Forever, Interrupted, Daisy Jones & The Six
Published by Atria Books on June 13th 2017
Pages: 400 •Goodreads
From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.
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.
Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating 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 takes—to face the truth.
*A huge thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
I fell in love with Taylor Jenkins Reid about a year or so ago, after reading Maybe in Another Life. I loved her ability to write adult fiction that felt relevant to me in my twenties, to developed extremely nuanced relationships and to write protagonists who all felt distinct and yet familiar at the same time. I’ve read almost all of her published works, so when I heard about The Seven Husbands on Evelyn Hugo, I have to admit I was a bit confused- it’s a huge departure from her other novels which have largely surrounded young married or soon to be married couples and the growing pains of their relationships and own self discovery. However, since it was a novel by TJR I of course had to request it from NetGalley and it’s one of the best, most unique books that I have read in a long, long time.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has two parallel narratives, focusing on the young reporter who is interviewing Evelyn, and Evelyn herself who is finally ready to confess the truth about her scandalous life as a Hollywood bombshell. Evelyn is reminiscent of classic film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, and learning about her life is fascinating as one can definitely draw parallels to actual stories, celebrities, and Hollywood happenings from that era. The narrative is broken up into seven main parts based on Evelyn’s seven husbands, and it was such a clever way to craft the distinct chapters in Evelyn’s life and relationship with fame. I absolutely loved this storytelling method, and was eager to return to Evelyn’s narrative of the past whenever the story switched to present day.
Sure, this story has scandal, drama, romance, and all of the other makings of an enticing and engaging read, but what I found most compelling about the novel and about Evelyn was the earnest feminism and themes of female empowerment and diversity, even if Evelyn herself was deeply flawed in some of her ideologies and actions. Evelyn is born the daughter of Cuban immigrants and after the death of her mother, decides that she is going to escape her poverty ridden life in New York by becoming famous by any means necessary. Evelyn is unapologetic about using her looks, her sexuality, and her genuine feminine wiles to get to the West Coast and get ahead, ready to take any opportunity that presents itself in life. While such methods may seem unorthodox this day in age, Evelyn’s options were more limited back in the 1940s, with her looks the only tool she’s ever known how to wield, and the story raises interesting questions surrounding the use of a women’s appearance for gain and the double standards surrounding women’s sexuality and female power. In a lot of ways Evelyn isn’t a likeable character- she’s cunning and ruthless and her ambition and personal success comes before anybody else. Yet there’s something so refreshing about reading about someone who is so unapologetic about their life and the choices they’ve made, who owns their legacy flaws and all. I found Evelyn to be an extremely empowering protagonist despite her rough edges and deep flaws.
The story also covers major decades in Hollywood’s history, from the 40s up through the 90s, and its fascinating to see how Evelyn’s style, the roles she received, etc. changed from decade to decade. It was also interesting to see how culture shifted so much in the course of 50 years from the civil rights movement to the awareness of AIDS to how domestic violence is viewed, and how these elements of how the world was changing did and did not impact and penetrate the Hollywood scene. Hollywood itself was a character in Evelyn’s story, and even getting a chance to look behind the curtain through Evelyn’s story does not demystify it completely.
Overall: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is definitely a departure from TJR’s usual style, but she exceeds all expectations I had, creating a character so complex and dynamic and likeable yet unlikable at the same time. Evenlyn will remain one of my favorite fictional protagonists for a long, long while to come.