The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published by: Atria Books
Publish Date: 2017
Genre(s): Fiction, Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Romance, LGBT
HB&W Rating: 4
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Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.
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—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very 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.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
After finishing this book several days ago, I’m still not sure I’m quite able to put to paper what I felt about this book, but I’m going to try. Usually, I open my reviews stating whether I liked a book or not, but I’m not sure I can do that for this one. Like (or dislike for that matter) is just not the right word for it. Captivating, compelling, engrossing, illuminating — it was all of those things.
The Golden Age of Hollywood — the days of Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelley, and so many more, the glitz and glitter of 1950s and 1960s cinema and studio empires — that is what sets the stage of this novel.
Evelyn Hugo is (to my mind) an amalgamation of Ava Gardner, Jean Harlow, and Katherine Hepburn. She’s a blonde bombshell at the front of 1950s glamour and style. She’s the woman every man wants to sleep with and that every woman wants to be. She has it all. Or does she?
Evelyn is a woman with gumption and drive, who is ruthless in her ambition to get to the top of the heap. She proves that she is perfectly willing and able to do whatever she must to further her career. She’s not always a likable character, but as her story unfolds, she is one you can sympathize with.
That’s what magazine reporter Monique Grant thought…until she didn’t.
When Evelyn reaches out to Vivant magazine (which I equate to Vogue IRL) requesting Monique to write an article on her, after years of radio silence, Monique is floored and thrilled in equal measure. Monique is at a lull in her life and job. Her husband just left her, her career hasn’t really taken off, despite writing for one of the top magazines in the world.
As Evelyn proposes a new offer to Monique directly, Monique is torn. But as Evelyn’s story unfolds, Monique finds a new understanding about herself and her life and she dares to begin to go after what she wants. But as their time together begins to come to an end and Evelyn’s story to a close, a blow she didn’t see coming knocks the wind out of her.
“Relationships are complex,” Evelyn says. “People are messy, and love can be ugly. I’m inclined to always err on the side of compassion.”
I think what I most admire about this book is its ability to not shy away from the gray areas. Reid shows us that life is never black and white, uncomplicated right and wrong. The truth is that it is all shades of gray. Just because a person does bad things, doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad or beyond redemption. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean we need to fear it. Just because we love someone doesn’t mean we get our HEA or negate the possibility that we are also capable of hating them at the same time.
“I think being yourself–your true, entire self–is always going to feel like you’re swimming upstream.”
But what I most admired about this book was the ability of the main characters to see who they really were, the good and the bad, and this self-reflection allowed them to view others in the same way. Ultimately, the ability to do this leads to compassion and empathy for others. While that doesn’t always make up for the hurt one causes to another, it counts for something, and may even lead to actions later a means of reparation.
Understanding who we are as people, deep down, our truest selves is never easy. It happens with experience, with age. Only when the lens we view ourselves through is less about how others view us can we begin to truly see ourselves.
While you may be inclined to think that based on the setting that this is going to be some sort of fluff piece, I can assure you that this book goes more than skin-deep. There is a deeper theme of truth throughout this novel. On the surface, that truth is about finally getting answers about the life of a cinematic icon, because human curiosity leads us to think we have a right to all of a celebrity’s secrets. It is also about bringing to light the darker side of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and one only has to look at the story of Judy Garland’s life to see the truth of that statement. This book is all about peeling back the facade that is presented publicly to see the truth underneath. But moreover, it’s getting to the truth of a person. What makes a person tick? What dictates their choices, and when the chips are down, do they cut and run, or do they risk it all?
This novel reads like an expose that you will want to devour just as much as the latest gossip in any tabloid, and it will certainly keep you hooked, but it will also have you reflecting on your own choices, and the truth of yourself and who you are as a person. It gets to the very heart of a person, peeling back the layers until the truth is revealed…if you’re willing to look, that is.
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