I honestly didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did – there’s been insane hype around it, but the title really threw me off the scent. After reading it’s synopsis I thought I was about to wade into yet another overwrought romance with little to no substance. Fortunately – this book turned out to be one of my favorite books that I’ve read in a long time.
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.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is told through unique means: Evelyn is dictating her life story to finally compose an autobiography. She specifically enlists the help of Monique, an up and coming writer, much to everyone’s surprise. The sections of the book are divided into the time frames of who Evelyn was married to at the time, interspersed with her interactions with Monique. As someone who has never been interested in reading a real celebrity’s biography before, I was surprised at just how quickly I became invested in Evelyn’s story. Further, adding in the mystery around why Evelyn specifically chose Monique as her biographer only helped to thicken the plot and my investment.
Though the characters in this book were all fictional, this book felt more like a biography of an old Hollywood starlet with the level of world building and attention to detail that went into it. The old Hollywood setting was immersive and fascinating – you got to see the glitz and glamour of it all, as well as the seedy underbelly. It felt authentic and deeply depressing at times – reading about all the cruelties life threw at Evelyn was heart breaking, but learning the measures and lengths she went to to stay relevant was even more troubling.
This book ambitiously explores the cost of fame and what one woman will do to stay on top – and Evelyn was the perfect character to center it around. She fundamentally changed herself all in the pursuit of making it big – she was unabashed in her willingness to do anything to be/stay famous. Evelyn was ruthless and cutthroat and was unafraid of going after what she wanted. While some of the things she did were unarguably despicable, it was how she dealt with the repercussions and the fallout that really defined her character. Monique on the other hand is a doe eyed journalist who has let life beat her down – the ultimate foil to Evelyn. Reading how they contrast and how they react to each other was the best part of their interactions. The rest of the characters of Evelyn’s past were well rounded and well utilized – no one felt like a prop or an archetype.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is one of those rare books that not only lives up to the hype, but it also surpasses it. With amazing characters, an intriguing plot, and a glitzy old Hollywood setting, this book is easily one of my favorite books of the year. I can’t wait to read more of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books. 5/5