Evelyn Hugo, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, has decided at the age of 79 that she wants someone to tell her life story. The person she chooses for this task is Monique Grant, who has been working for Vivant magazine for less than a year and mostly writing puff pieces. Monique is ambitious–nearly as ambitious as Evelyn was during her career, so she negotiates what she thinks are the best possible terms for the book with Evelyn. Since Evelyn Hugo’s seven husbands are now dead, Monique hopes to find out which one was the love of Evelyn’s life. Though she gets the answer to her question, she also finds out why Evelyn Hugo, Hollywood icon, specifically wanted Monique to interview her.
After the first few chapters, the sections of the book Reid is writing are set up in order of Evelyn’s seven husbands. As a Cuban immigrant, Evelyn Hugo’s mother believed that the way out of the family’s poverty involved becoming a movie star. So when Evelyn’s mother died and her father abused her, Evelyn decided to use her good looks to get a ride with a guy in her neighborhood who was going to Hollywood. At age 15, she married him and worked at getting small and then bigger parts in movies in the 1950s.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has been on my to be read list for a while now and I regret not getting to it sooner. It has great representation–Monique is bi-racial, Evelyn is Cuban American, and there are LGBTQ characters. I marveled at how far LGBTQ rights have come in the years since the fictional Evelyn worked in Hollywood. First of all, the term LGBTQ didn’t exist, and secondly these people had no rights. If they had careers they risked being fired if anyone found out. They also risked getting arrested or being sent to a mental institution simply because of who they loved.
Evelyn’s character is at the center of the book and before I picked it up I assumed she would be shallow. She certainly was unconcerned about who she hurt on her way to becoming famous. If she truly cared about someone, however, she was fiercely loyal. For those people she tried to do the right things, even if she sometimes failed. She also gained some wisdom with age, and I enjoy stories in which the main character grows. As Monique says toward the end of the novel, “I hate Evelyn, but I think I like her very much.”
Another thing I enjoyed about the book were the similarities between Evelyn and Monique. Both are ambitious women who for different reasons don’t quite fit into society’s expectations. Spending time with Evelyn changes Monique in significant ways, some negative, some positive. I found myself caring deeply about both of these women. Sometimes I almost forgot that Evelyn Hugo didn’t really exist because of the tabloid and newspaper articles sprinkled throughout the book.
I gave 5/5 stars to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. If you enjoyed this review, please visit my podcast website https://www.whatheatherisreading.com for more great book reviews. Episodes of What Heather Is Reading are also available wherever you get your podcasts.
Trigger warnings for domestic violence, homophobia, cancer, and alcoholism.