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 is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
I really, really, really enjoyed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, so much so that I finished it before I’d even had the book in my possession for longer than 36 hours. I was, admittedly, drawn in for the same reasons everyone within the novel and the bookstores were pulled in. I wanted to know why the heck this one woman decided to marry seven different men. It turns out that she had several good reasons (and a few bad ones, which were, in my opinion, much more fun to uncover).
Thing(s) I Loved More Than Evelyn Loved Most of Her Husbands:
The one thing that stood out to me from the start was Reid’s writing style. Evelyn is an Old Hollywood film star, but she is also a no-nonsense woman who fought tooth and nail for everything she achieved over decades of stardom. The syntax of her sections was generally to the point. Still, she tended to stray from this during her rare moments of extreme emotion. Her language would begin to border on the excessive, and her sentences would grow in complexity. This gave depth to Evelyn’s character. Still, it also added that extra air of intrigue that the reader didn’t know they needed. Evelyn Hugo is a woman of ruthless ambition and, I would argue, admirable moral ambiguity. I believe that her convoluted directions and complicated dictation are by-products of a lifetime of drama and manipulation. I think that they serve the novel well.
Similarly, I liked seeing Monique’s thoughts evolve. They started abrupt and succinct, extraordinarily cut-and-dry. It was fun to watch her thoughts blur into shades of grey as she and I learned more about Evelyn’s past. It was also fun to watch her develop the ability to think and feel beyond what was right in front of her – to see her shed the defense mechanism of apathy.
They felt distinct from each other, is what I’m getting at. I would have known who was speaking in each section even without dialogue tags. One of my biggest pet peeves in books with multiple perspectives is the lack of individuality that characters sometimes fall into when everything is in the first person. In my opinion, it goes to show the care that Reid took with both Monique and Evelyn. More on Monique later, though…
As a fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the fictional letters that carry the story, I enjoyed the interludes of newspaper articles and gossip magazine headlines. Those clippings highlighted the astounding span of Evelyn’s time in the spotlight and how much grief she was given for it. They also were frustrating in the best possible way. For one thing, Evelyn didn’t want them to think she was human, not really. And for another, I grew up in a time of BuzzFeed and Perez Hilton. I was constantly asking myself why can’t paparazzi see Evelyn as a human and subsequently kicking myself for having that instinctual response.
Also – and this could just be me – I liked the way Evelyn sometimes seemed to see herself as this completely reprehensible person. There were several instances where I thought she was going to fall so deep down the rabbit hole of “I’m a bad person.” Emerging with a curly, black, silent film-villain mustache and a “muah, ha, ha” laugh. Some people may not like that and may not see that quality the same way I do. Still, I just loved Evelyn’s character and voice so much. I found how she reflected on many of her past actions hilarious in the most dreadful sense.
Finally, it must be said that The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is fantastically paced. There is so much time to cover and so little, well, time, to cover it. There is a sense of urgency that I appreciated: urgency on Monique’s part to learn more and urgency on Evelyn’s part that isn’t accounted for until the end.
Where I Couldn’t See the Director’s Vision:
I love Evelyn Hugo. I love her stories and her growth and the way she refuses to admit that she’s made any. I love the way that at the novel’s conclusion, I was ready to absolve her of her sins, and I love the way that I still don’t know how I feel about her. Unfortunately, I think differently about Monique. While I am thrilled that Reid, a white author, did not make the mistake of excluding racially diverse characters from her novel because of a fear of “getting it wrong,” I am not impressed with her treatment of race or Monique’s character. Monique felt purposefully obtuse as if she were just a prop for Evelyn to throw life lessons at. I was especially unenthused with her initial reaction to Evelyn’s “gift” during the big reveal and the several insensitive comments during the dictation sessions. I don’t mean to pigeonhole anyone, but I was a little shocked at some of the words that came out of the mouth of a young biracial woman who grew up with a hippie mother and decided to live in New York City.
My Nominations to the Academy: Evelyn and Harry
I believe that I feel great pity and none at all, for Evelyn is a great triumph on Reid’s part. I also think that this could not have been achieved without the character of Harry Cameron. The two of them play off of each other effortlessly, and it is Evelyn’s love for Harry that cemented my respect for and appreciation of her. Their dialogue is some of the most fun to read, and I found their mutual love to be the most exciting part of the whole novel.
Do I Recommend This? Yes!
Age Recommendation: 16+
Trigger Warnings: Mentions of statutory rape and underage marriages, domestic abuse, homophobia and biphobia, alcoholism, racism, mentions of harder drug use, sexism