I have so many books in my To Be Read pile that I didn’t even know where to start, so I made a little poll and asked my bookclub which book I should tackle next (thank you, Spivesters!). Although it wasn’t a unanimous decision, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid won by a landslide. I had had this one loaded up on my Kindle for a while now, but for some reason the synopsis didn’t call to me, so I had been passing over it in favour of other things. As per usual, the group knew what they were talking about.
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 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 jump-start 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.
Almost every avid book reader I know told me to read this, and even after devouring (and loving) Daisy Jones & The Six, I still didn’t see it coming. I got so immersed in Evelyn Hugo’s world that I kept forgetting she wasn’t a real person that I couldn’t go watch all of her movies. As a person who enjoys stories old Hollywood, I saw a lot of similar stories to other famous actresses of the time, and see that Jenkins Reid used these incredible stories as inspiration. Despite being the main storyteller in the book, Evelyn Hugo is flawed—and she knows it—which adds another layer of beauty to this touching, heartbreaking, yet heartwarming, story.
The story shows the struggles of women (especially women in the spotlight) back in the ’50s and ’60s and how, although they seemed powerful and like they could call the shots, they were forced to behave in a certain matter if they wanted to keep working in the industry. Evelyn Hugo, arguably one of the most popular stars at the time, defies what is traditionally expected of her while also maintaining the status quo to the outside world. It would be an exhausting feat, and I felt it throughout the narrative. She always had to think three steps ahead when it came to every decision she ever made. Even though times have changed since then, this is still the case for a lot of women today…and not just those in Hollywood.
Monique’s story was a great addition to break up the Hollywood drama, too. And the way the narrative comes together in the end shocked me. I knew something was coming (she kept alluding to it in the narration, so this isn’t a spoiler), and I kept trying to guess what it was… and I was completely wrong. It was terrific.
If you love old Hollywood (I’m especially thinking about you, fans of the You Must Remember This podcast by Karina Longworth) or you’re simply looking for a book that will hook you in and not let you resume your actual life until it’s done, I definitely recommend reading it. I’m crushed that I waited as long as I did.
“When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.” —Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Thank you to Martin Jernberg on Unsplash for the featured photo of Hollywood.