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 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 through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a 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.
If you’ve seen my recent Thursday Quotables post, you’ll know that I absolutely fell in love with this book. It is without a doubt not only in my top favourites of this year, but one of my top favourites of all time.
So let’s get into what I loved so much!
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing is the kind of writing that just completely envelopes you and cuts you off from the outside world. From the first page, I was totally immersed in Monique and Evelyn’s lives and could believe everything entirely.
The concept is just brilliant (which I’ll get into more in the plot section of this review), but it also presents so many challenges, the main one being that the bulk of this story is told in flashbacks, which I find can really slow the pace down and drag out. This wasn’t the case at all in this book, because I was so totally immersed in Evelyn’s narrative. The writing remained both punchy and beautiful throughout.
“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 lines like the one above that makes the book so impactful and truly unlocks the emotion behind the story and the characters. Having lines that are so relatable in such an unrelatable world as Hollywood stardom, is so effective in humanising Evelyn and heightening each peak and fall throughout her life.
I really don’t think I can fault the writing at all.
Like I said earlier, the plot of this book is just genius. Not only are the opportunities endless, but being framed as an interview looking back on the past, the whole story is tainted in a feeling of nostalgia and we are constantly reminded of how Evelyn’s story ends – alone after seven husbands, and outliving her daughter. Instead of ruining the suspense, this knowledge really pushes the story forward and only adds to the mystery element.
This format also allows for us as the reader to see other people’s perspectives of Evelyn both in the past and present, whether that be through tabloids following her at the height of her fame, magazines speculating about her in old age, or through Monique herself as she is thrust upon a woman who was once the world’s most famous and scandalous celebrity. Switching between these perspectives and Evelyn’s true account really showed the predatory nature of certain journalists and gossip sites. Their pressure, scrutiny, and presumptions were so invasive that I couldn’t help but feel desperately sorry for Evelyn, and the lengths she had to go to to hide her true self.
For me, that’s the main crux of this book – being forced to hide your true self as the price for success and ambition, the toxicity of society (especially in the 20th century, but also today), and the empowerment that comes with telling your story the way you yourself experienced.
Being such a character driven book, having characters that are interesting and well-developed is a must in order for it to work. I found every single character in the book to fit this criteria.
Evelyn is such a real character, who has to deal with so much shit. Having to hide her true self and construct a persona in order for her to make it in Hollywood is at the heart of everything she does – whether that be dyeing her hair blonde and changing her speech patterns to disguise her Cuban heritage or engaging in fake relationships to cover up her bisexuality – and ultimately leads to her sitting down with Monique and spilling her life story, and who was her one real love. The racism and homo/biphobia she experiences is so heartbreaking, and though she makes some terrible decisions, I could always understand her reasoning and it just added to the realness of her character. Her fight and her flaws make her human.
Evelyn is the definition of a strong woman, who copes with more than I would ever be able to. However, despite us getting so far into her head and her past, she still manages to retain a reverence and mystery to her, which makes her so intoxicating. She truly does have the appeal of a major celebrity and I couldn’t help but fall for her as her fans did. She is a character I will always hold close to my heart.
Monique is not just a conduit between the audience and Evelyn, she is a character to be admired and empathised with in her own right. She faces her own struggles as a biracial woman trying to get by working for a magazine and figuring out where she wants to take her writing, while also separating from her partner, which all gets tangled up with Evelyn.
“Make them pay you what they would pay a white man.”
I truly believe they both helped each other. I was rooting for Monique as much as I was rooting for Evelyn. Both are women I admire so much and are such strong protagonists to lead a story.
My love for this book is pretty much endless and I could rant for a long time about it, but I’m trying not to go too far over 1000 words (which I have already failed at) for reviews. This book will break your heart and every now and then, piles of books later, will come back to haunt you.
Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? I’d love to gush about it more!
Until the next one,