This is a long review. Most of it comes from the detailed synopsis that I wrote, in part for myself (because I was listening and needed to keep track of everything over the course of three days), in part for you.
This only took me forever to post. But it is finally here!
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Synopsis From The Book
In this entrancing novel “that speaks to the Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in us all” (Kirkus Reviews), a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.
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.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
I am both terrified and frustrated beyond all measure of trying this. I can not, for the life of me, fathom trying to read an audio book, yet here I try. I hope, that by this being the audio book for a book I really want to read, that I’ll be able to best enjoy it.
In general, I have heard so many good things about this book that I am oh so excited to finally read it. Gonna read this while sewing. Wish me luck. I really, really, need it this time.
I realize (belatedly) that plot and quotes are going to be extremely hard for me to write out because it’s an audio book, but I will do my best.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
After first 5hrs (AKA Day 1) : I think I love Evelyn Hugo. Like truly love her. She is so real. At least going into this, I knew that she was going to feel real. I’m not sure if it’s the narrator for her parts, but she is so stunning and charming. I feel like I have to support and love her. She’s the kind of star that can sit among the greats in notoriety alone. I was going to continue to try to read as much as I could today, but the dread of the audiobook over powered that chance. Day 2 will be next week. This will sit for a full week. Wish me luck getting back into it.
After next 3hrs (AKA Day 2): Plans changed. I’m here about four days after day one. It was sort of funny because I was super nervous getting back into it. The same sort of nerves I had when I first started day 1. I thought I was going to suddenly hate this book. I didn’t. I love Evelyn Hugo even more to be honest. Monique isn’t as irritating to me now that I’ve let her voice sit a bit more (she was just so young in comparison to Evelyn’s wisdom, and I felt it. The clash drove me up the wall for Day 1 to be honest). Day 3 will probably be the last day and it will come in two days. I can not wait.
Last 3 hrs (AKA Day 3): I actually cried. Holy. All the deaths and the Monique reveal actually hurt me. This was so good. Can someone buy me every copy that this world has to offer? I need to get a hard cover copy of it (and probably paperback I love it so much). How am I going to write this review? What am I going to say?
Please send help.
Total: In some way I am fundamentally changed by this book, in some way I can’t place a finger to. I am changed. This book is a part of me. What more could I ever ask for in a book?
Monique Grant is a thirty+ writer for Vivant, a high profile gossip magazine. She is going through a divorce with her husband and is worried about her career when she gets called into her bosses office. Evelyn Hugo, international sensation, bombshell, and actress of the 50/60’s Hollywood, has requested an interview with Monique. Its Monique or no one else, and with Evelyn recently selling many of her iconic dresses, everyone wants this piece. Monique takes the job, knowing she must know why.
When meeting with Evelyn, Monique learns that Evelyn wants Monique to write her Tell-All, and then to take all the royalties (i.e.Monique makes all the money). Monique questions why and Evelyn says that should Monique take the job, she will find out. Otherwise Evelyn will never tell a single soul. Monique takes it.
Going to separate this into Monique’s Time line and Evelyn’s Story. This is also going to be very long. Good Luck. Or just skip below. You pick.
While learning of Evelyn’s life, Monique quickly picks up a thing or two on how to get what she wants. When her boss calls Monique finally comes clean about the book deal, and makes it so that she does not lose her job by taking the story from Vivant. Instead she gets her way into a Writer at Large, position (Aka she can do whatever she wants, almost), and a pay raise, so long as she can get the Vivant piece and a photo op. Monique then uses this same persuasion skills to convince Evelyn to both or she walks. Evelyn agrees, but says Monique can ask no more questions. Over the course of the story, Monique gets texts and calls from her husband (the one she is getting a divorce with). Her husband shows up and Monique says that the divorce is what they need (taking a note from Evelyn’s book). Evelyn and Monique pick the date for her photoshoot for Friday.
Evelyn was raised in Hell’s Kitchen and was eleven when her mother died. Immediately after, in order to survive, she learned the worth of her beauty and body. At 15 she was married to her first husband: Ernie Diaz. This was her move to both, get away from her father, and to get to Hollywood. She moved to Hollywood, began waitressing and at seventeen she got her break. By eighteen she divorced Ernie.
It is here that she creates the image of Evelyn Hugo, a blond bombshell, and has erased her Cuban origin. She begins going on dates with other men, at her producer’s behest. By 21 she was married to her second husband Don Adler. It was two weeks after being married that he hit her the first time. Little Women, is produced and this is how Evelyn Hugo meets Celia St. James. At the opening of the film Evelyn learns Don is cheating on her and Celia is a lesbian. Evelyn kisses her and the moment that the divorce papers from Don come, she and Celia begin a relationship in secret.
With Don and Evelyn estranged, Evelyn is ostracized by her company and has to reinvent herself. It is here that she films one of her most iconic films (directed by Max Girard), and is spun back into the spot light. After a tabloid questions Celia and Evelyn’s relationship, Evelyn elopes with Mick Riva (husband 3) to hide her secret. They annul the next day.
Evelyn finds out she is pregnant and Celia freaks out (she didn’t realize that Evelyn meant marriage and sex involved). Celia leaves her and Evelyn gets an abortion. Evelyn then marries Rex North as another publicity stunt. This one spans over years. She and Rex never sleep together, and have affairs on the side. (There is a part of him that wants to sleep with her but they never do). They use this to promote their films and then Rex falls for another woman. He gets this woman pregnant, and Evelyn finds out Celia is marrying. In order to let Rex be happy and to get out of the marriage, Evelyn and Harry fake an affair. Rex ends up being able to marry his love and Evelyn marries Harry. Harry, who is dating Celia’s husband, has a connection back to Celia that Evelyn needs. Evelyn meets Celia in a bathroom after losing out in an Oscar, and the two make up. From that point on, Evelyn and Celia, Harry and Celia’s husband John, are inseparable. They move to NYC, confirming Evelyn’s father is dead, and make a new life.
After some time Evelyn asks Celia for a baby (Harry’s baby) and Celia approves. Evelyn and Harry make a baby, her name is Connor (Evelyn is now 36ish). After having the baby Evelyn gets a job offer (with Celia’s help) to film a movie with Max Girard once more, downside? Her partner is Don. She agrees to it, Don is now clean from alcohol, and in the movie she is offered the chance to show off a woman’s sexuality (truly being pleasured, instead of having sex out of duty for her husband) and Evelyn agrees. She agrees and films the scene all before talking to Celia. When she does talk to Celia, Celia leaves her again. Celia files for divorce with John. Five years pass, John dies and Harry is wrecked. Evelyn wins her first academy award.
Max Girard asks Evelyn to leave Harry for him. She shows Harry the note, and he says that she should. Evelyn divorces Harry, and marries Max. She was married to Harry for fifteen years. Evelyn hopes that she can fall in love with Max and finally leave Celia’s memory behind. On the night of her honeymoon to Max, she realizes that Max loves her for what she is and not who she is (the idea of Evelyn Hugo, not real Evelyn). Celia gets her third Oscar, and prompts Evelyn into writing her. Evelyn and Celia get back in contact and after 10 years of not seeing each other. Evelyn tells Max she is leaving him and tells Celia, she will give up everything for her. Celia is dying.
Celia and Evelyn want to give up acting and move to Spain. Evelyn tells this to Harry. Harry says no, because he now has a new person who thinks he may want to love. He says that he and Evelyn should get married again, and Celia marries this new man. Evelyn says she will think about it. The next she sees him is when she is headed to his house with her driver. There she finds a car crash. Harry is in the driver’s seat and the other man is dead. Evelyn gets Harry to the hospital, and replaces his lover in the front seat so it looks like the other man caused the accident and not Harry (who was drunk). Evelyn pays off her driver who can’t fully fathom what happened or what they did. Harry dies and its said to be a heart attack not because of a car accident. The other man is said to have died alone, and caused his own death.
Connor (Harry and Evelyn’s daughter) goes through a rough bit and Evelyn moves them to Spain with Celia (After marrying Celia’s brother Robert). Connor starts to move on from her father’s death and Evelyn and Celia marry in words (not by law). Six years pass, Connor goes on to school and Celia dies. Evelyn is fully distraught. More years pass and Robert dies. When Connor is 39, she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Connor dies 18 months later, and Evelyn broke down like she never did before.
Evelyn tells Monique that she is saying goodbye. Evelyn says she has done some very awful things and presses on to show Monique that the man Harry fell in love with, a black man, was Monique’s father. Monique accepted that her father died by his own mistake, but learning that Evelyn pinned the blame on her father (taking Harry from the equation) infuriates her. Now she has fury about Evelyn having done this to her. Evelyn gives her a letter that her father wrote to Harry. The letter is Monique’s father (James) telling Harry that he will not leave his wife (to marry Celia) and go to Europe with him, because of his daughter (Monique). He wants to keep Monique happy and to give her the best. Angela (Monique’s mother) is James’ best friend and he can not leave her so he will not leave to be with Harry despite the passion.
Monique now knows why she was picked, for the letter and for her piece on the right to die, that got her the job for Vivant. Evelyn tells Monique that she (Monique) is talented and the best person to write Evelyn’s book. Monique keeps the book deal, but tells Evelyn she hates Evelyn. Evelyn wanted Monique to know her father (James) loved her (Monique) more than everything. Evelyn reveals that she has breast cancer.
The next day, Evelyn has her photoshoot and looks like Evelyn Hugo (the star) and Monique realizes Evelyn plans to die that night. Grace (Evelyn’s housekeeper) is gone, and Monique has to decide between stopping Evelyn or letting Evelyn take her own life. Monique picks to keep Evelyn’s trust and walks away. Monique gets her mother and goes home, knowing that there are all sorts of loves in the world, and she accepts that.
They watch an Evelyn Hugo movie and Monique falls asleep to her voice. When she wakes up, she knows that she will forgive Evelyn Hugo one day. Monique’s Vivant piece opens up to her book.
What I Liked:
My Energy; Something that I often find when separating a solid 5 book from anything else I read, is my energy that I give during and after. It is all I want to talk about. For good or for bad, a book that strikes me and sits with me as a solid five is something I will talk about. It is something I will promote. It is something that will exist within me more prominently and more proudly than any of the other books that I read. They are the stories that I cherish and the stories that everyone hears about. While reading this novel, I spoke to all my friends about it and convinced them to read. While reading this novel, I found myself in love for listening to books for the first time and settling into it not wanting it to end. While listening to this book I told my mother, and continued to tell my mother, and everyone who heard me raving said one thing. This book made me smile, and they loved hearing about it, from me. I can tell you with certainty I love this book for it’s characters and for it’s writing style, but above all else I love this book for Evelyn Hugo. Everyone around me found me falling in love with literature all over again, and is it so surprising? Because if there is one thing Evelyn Hugo taught me, it’s that love comes in many forms and you can love many people.
Evelyn Hugo; Evelyn Hugo was not born, she was made. She was made on the dreams and spite of one woman. Evelyn made herself, but in some ways (as Monique puts it at the end), Evelyn would have always been a star. She had a gift, she made a statement, and she was unapologetic about what she wanted to be. However, Evelyn never really knew what she wanted — a family — instead opting for the answer to become what everyone told her she couldn’t. Her spite drove her, and her spite led her to one of the most dazzling lives I could have ever heard about. Evelyn loved and Evelyn lost. Evelyn faced pains of all sorts, and setbacks of all kinds, but Evelyn did not settle for being held back.
Evelyn’s life is the sort of life I would both never want to have, but the sort of one that I aspire to. It is not the riches and fame, but rather the acceptance and passion for her life. I want to be able to live a life that I can look back at and say, yes I lived that, for better or for worse I lived that, and accept it. Regrets of what could have been were never there for Evelyn because she knew what she had and what she did to get what she had. Evelyn never had the luxury of doing a double take. She took the experience and went with it, made the best of it, and became Evelyn Hugo.
I love Evelyn Hugo, not the fictional person but the idea, I realize as I write this. I love the idea of being able to define myself and accept myself in that way and to exist so perfectly in that self. I know the Evelyn saw much of her life as lies, that she saw much wrong in what she had done, but she was still Evelyn Hugo — as Monique noted– no matter what. I love the idea of such acceptance, and understanding of ones self. That is why I love Evelyn Hugo (add on the fact that she would demand what she wants and nothing less. The character is perfection too.)
Monique; I started off a bit irritated by Monique, but by the end I really connected with her. She was not the same sort of aged wine that Evelyn was. She was young. She was tangible. She was real. She was, in some way, a connection to myself that I simply did not want to make. Yet, by the end I accepted her. As she was changed by Evelyn, I was changed, and for that I thank her.
Celia; I really liked Celia as a complicated character. She was dynamic and she was round. Her wants, her hypocrisy, her desires were all so real, all so human, and I loved her with Evelyn. Even as Evelyn told her story about Celia, I could see through the rose colored lens, perhaps in part thanks to Monique. Celia was not a kind person, but she was a person Evelyn loved. She was her own person and she lived her life, and I really did like her.
Harry; Good old Harry. I found in him a best friend. I loved how human he was as well. We must remember that Harry helped Evelyn change, and stood by her through everything. He was as complicit in her life as she was. When Harry died I did cry. His death was so heart breaking and tragic. His reveal with Monique’s father was even more so. Harry was far from perfect, but I would have loved him as Evelyn did.
Evelyn’s Husbands; Excluding Harry in this count, we have 6 husbands. Each of them were good and bad men in their own right. Some were far worse than others. I liked learning of their relationships to Evelyn, and going through the story to see how and why each of the relationships came about. Eveyln used Ernie, loved Don until she did not, used Mick and Rex, loved Harry, thought she could love Max, and cared for Robert. And in turn they loved her and used her in their ways. I liked seeing such a cast of rounded and dynamic male characters in this story who were all side characters. It made Evelyn’s world all that more tangible.
Other characters and Hollywood; Hollywood felt real, and it changed. The other secondary and tertiary characters seemed to be people. Connor felt real, as real as anyone, and you could see Evelyn’s love for her.
Concept; I never thought I would fall in love in love with a book about a woman and her seven husbands. I knew this book was good but I didn’t know how good. I think this book makes it by being a book that is explaining as if someone was talking to you. The concept of a Hollywood star and her love life that is tabloid worthy is one thing. The concept of a complex coming out story, that is tangled with the worth of self and love, all with the glamour of Hollywood is another. This concept was different and entertaining all at once. I loved every minute of it.
Realism of it all; If there is one thing this book does beautifully is the dynamic and rounded characters who live in a very real world. It is real. It feels real. It leaves you breathless and wondering if Evelyn Hugo was a real person (rather than just inspired by real people). There is so much tangibility to it, that you clench your hands and bare it knowing, reminding yourself that its not. It is fiction, but it cuts close to home. It is because of this realism, that I believe this book excels and teaches us.
Representation; We have lesbians, we have gay men, we have straight men and women, and we have Evelyn Hugo who is bi. I make her very specific in this, because Evelyn Hugo is the main character and she is bi. She identifies as bi, and her story is about a bi woman. So often in culture we get bi erasure, where someone has to be a lesbian or straight. There is no nuance, and the identity gets erased. Evelyn Hugo is so bi it hurts. She loved Don. She loved Celia. She tried to love Max, probably would have if he did not have his head up his ass. She was attracted to all sorts of people, and I find this story extremely important. Not just for the fact that the LGBTQIA+ characters were at the forefront, but for everyone who can identify with Evelyn Hugo.
Not to mention the race representation in this book. Evelyn is Cuban, and Monique is biracial (half black, half white). They are our main leads and they become the focal point. We get to see life through their eyes, and it some ways how it is to be POC in their worlds. We see Evelyn struggle with this identity as much as she struggles with being bi. She struggles with speaking Spanish and banishing that part away from herself to become something else. We see her so often running from everything she is, and to finally accept it, and to come to peace with herself in a different way. This book is about accepting your skin and your self, and advocating for yourself.
Themes; Loss, love, acceptance, individuality, betrayal, pain, and so many others are woven into this book. Each touches well, and is expertly placed in Evelyn’s story. However the message that I took away from this is the following:
Not all things have to be good and in fact we may face very, very bad things in our lives. Not all things have to be perfect, but not all failure is forever. Things happen. This book taught me that love, comes in all forms and kinds and that’s okay, that none of it is necessarily lesser or greater. It’s about how we cherish those loves that matter. It is up to us to love. It is up to us to grow and change. It is up to us to advocate for ourselves. It is up to us to live.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
I wish I had the physical book so that I could mark down exact quote placement and to see how all the “photo moments” and the switches between perspectives were written.
Time Taken To Read
12hrs 10min – over the course of 3 days (Audio books take so long)
“Evelyn has more money than God.”
“Never let anyone make you feel ordinary.”
“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”
“It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.”
“Everyone’s dying sweetheart.”
“Evelyn Hugo never existed. She was a person I made up so that they would love me. Tell them that I was confused, for a very long time, about what love was. Tell them that I understood it now and that I didn’t need their love anymore. Say to them that ‘Evelyn Hugo just wants to go home. Its time for her to go to her daughter, and her lover, and her best friend, and her mother.’ Tell them, ‘Evelyn Hugo says goodbye.’ “
“ ‘Doesn’t it bother you, that your husbands have become such a headline story? So often mentioned that they nearly eclipsed your work and yourself? That all anyone talks about, when they talk about you, are the seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo. ‘ And her answer was quintessential Evelyn.
“No.” She told me. “Because they are just husbands. I am Evelyn Hugo. And anyway, I think once people know the truth, they will be much more interested in my wife.” ‘ – Last Line of the book
I wish I could tell you just where exactly all of these quotes were, but I can not. Perhaps I will come back one day in the future and add them.
As a note, I do not do this lightly, with recording this review with my own voice. Something about the passion being lost with letting it be automated, did not sit well with me. There will be the automated, as I have promised you, but I also give you me.