Spoiler warning for “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.”
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” has been taking social media by storm for the last year and a half. I waited more than eight weeks to get the audiobook from the library, longer even than the wildly popular “Song of Achilles.” “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, is a historical fiction novel portraying the life story of a fictional old Hollywood superstar. There are boat-loads of drama, intrigue, and gossip, enough to satisfy even those with the biggest appetite for scandal. And while the title indicates a focus on Evelyn’s seven husbands, it’s quite the opposite. Make no mistake: this book is all about the very strong-willed, confident, unapologetic woman featured in the title.
Monique Grant is a nobody journalist working for Vivant magazine and Evelyn Hugo is old Hollywood royalty gone into seclusion, refusing interviews for years. So when Monique is individually requested to interview Evelyn about her upcoming charity auction, she is dumbfounded. Even more so when Evelyn reveals to her that the interview piece was a guise — what she really wanted was for Monique to write her biography. An all-access, all-secrets-revealed biography, which is to be released after her death. Monique agrees after some hesitation and the real ride begins.
Due to the discourse on social media, going into the book I expected it to be an LGBTQ+ young adult romance novel: very mushy and lovey with a nice, clean ending that makes the reader cry and leaves them content. This is because it was often recommended alongside “Red, White & Royal Blue” and other popular love stories. I was surprised to find that what I expected was nothing at all like the book in my possession. That is to say — it was not the fluffy romance I was anticipating. While yes, there was a glorious queer romance between the characters of Evelyn and Celia, the book focused more on Evelyn’s life as a whole. Part of that was her love life of course, but also her career and the choices she made to get to where she was.
I don’t believe that romance is the only thing people should be taking away from the novel. It was more like an added bonus, another thread in the woven mystery of Evelyn Hugo. The book portrays Evelyn’s relationship with fame and being a woman during the old Hollywood era along with themes of immense loss, sacrifice, and tragedy. There is much more to discuss than “she is bisexual and in love with a woman,” which is still significant — after all, it is a core, shocking part of her story in this fictional world. But many more themes were put on the back burner of discussion where instead they deserved to shine at the center. It was much more heart-wrenching and intricate than anyone on social media led me to believe. Partly, perhaps, because it is hard to describe all this story portrayed and brought to light in words. It exposed a darker side of old Hollywood and the difficulties of loving someone of the same gender, but also the complexities of humankind. As well as the inner strength, fight, and will it takes to love, be loved, and survive.
Evelyn’s ending solidified her larger-than-life character — stubborn, determined, and never letting anything, or anyone, dictate her life. Her character remained true throughout the entire book, even as more and more about her was revealed. From the beginning, she told Monique that she wished to be written as someone who had no regrets for her choices in life. She wanted to be shown in all of her hard decisions and less-than-likable actions and that is what was done, even at the tail end. You come out of the book feeling like your whole world has been shaken yet everything is still in place, just where you left it.
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is a well-written book that covers the truth of fame and the hardship of loss. The characters were vivid and strong; we felt their joy, their pain and we grew alongside them. Monique held steadfast through it all and grew, learning more about herself as the pages were turned. Evelyn was a compelling double-edged sword that you simultaneously want to hate and adore by the end. Author Jenkins Reid did an incredible job of displaying the complexities of emotion and life in this brilliantly-woven tapestry of a book.
For another perspective on the book, you can check out a previous Weekly Reads article by Sam Evergreen.