The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, tells the story of Monique, a 30 something bi-racial magazine writer who is hired to write the memoir of elusive 50s screen siren, Evelyn Hugo. During their meetings Evelyn tells the story of her life, warts and all, but doesn’t answer Monique’s one burning question until the final interview: why her?
I heard so many good things about this book, and being a fan of all things 50s, I couldn’t wait for this to become available at the library so I could devour it. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long, and I found myself looking forward to my train ride to-and-from work so I could read all about the glamorous life of Evelyn and her seven husbands.
Unfortunately, although I did like the book, and the story was interesting and at times heartbreaking, I didn’t love it for two main reasons: some of the characters weren’t very engaging and the ending was not to my taste due to a missed opportunity at foreshadowing (in my humble opinion).
Lets start with some of the good bits.
I absolutely loved the story that Evelyn told to Monique about her life growing up, both before and in Hollywood, and about the trials and tribulations of being an actress, and also being gay or bisexual at the time. Things were hard for women back then, and as a feminist who is also fascinated by Old Hollywood, I found it so interesting to read about one of the biggest (fictional) starlets of the time, and how she was treated by her lovers, the people she worked with, and the press.
I liked the Evelyn from back then as well, she was feisty and strong, yet also cruel and calculating. It was easy to see that the walls she put up to protect herself contributed to her undoing, time and again. The idea that there is immense pain behind the beautiful facade that famous women (and men) show to the world is portrayed perfectly in this book. Life through the lens of the camera not only hides a multitude of sins but also exaggerates some that aren’t really there as well. Evelyn’s relationship with the press was sometimes to her advantage, but usually it was the other way round.
The story of Evelyn’s relationships with her seven husbands, and also the greatest love of her life (no spoilers) was also fascinating, and showed how some relationships in Hollywood are more like business arrangements, no matter how enviable they seem to the public. Yet for others, not even love is enough to keep them together.
The book makes no secret of the fact that Evelyn wasn’t a very nice person. She was quite ruthless when she wanted to be, but her edge was softened by some of her lovely friends, who were the real standouts of the story. I think Taylor was on the money with her portrayal of Evelyn, and the whole Hollywood scene from the 50s which we know was rife with gossip: you had to have thick skin to make it, and probably still do.
What I didn’t like about this book was Monique.
Monique was just plain rude most of the time. Her dialogue was short and snappy, and despite her sob story, I really didn’t feel sympathetic toward her in any way. In fact, I cringed at the way she spoke, mainly to Evelyn, but to her mother and boss as well. The whole point of Monique is to build up to the big reveal at the end, which we are reminded of a number of times throughout the book, but to me it fell totally flat. I almost at cried toward the end, but the actual ending just annoyed me as it was so bland.
The writing was great, not flowery but descriptive enough to be able to picture the locations and people in all their golden glory. The dialogue overall was on the short, sharp and shiny side, but for some reason Monique’s words were terse and grating. I didn’t enjoy her parts at all and just wanted to get back to the story of Evelyn. What really got me though, was that there seemed to be opportunities to drop breadcrumbs along the way so that the bombshell ending was more of an a’ha moment than WTF?! I absolutely hate endings like that (I can’t even think about Broadchurch the TV show which did a similar thing). As a reader it makes me feel cheated, like I had no chance to sleuth out the ending because there were no clues given. You’re meant to feel heartbroken and outraged, but I didn’t, not for Monique anyway.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an easy read, with a healthy dash of glamour and Old Hollywood pizzazz. If you’re into old movies and names such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, I think you’ll enjoy this book. I’m giving it 3 stars.