Perhaps I am too biased to be able to give a fair review of the novelThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. But I’ve never been one to back down, so here we go.
Beginning in what we now call the “classic Hollywood era”, the story is about Evelyn Hugo, a blonde bombshell famous for her big boobs, her controversial film roles, and yes, having seven husbands. Fast forward to present day: After several decades of relative obscurity, Evelyn decides to give an interview about her life to a nobody magazine writer, Monique, and only to Monique, under false pretenses. And so, we learn about the life of Evelyn Hugo…and how it connects to a very confused Monique who interviews her as she comes to terms with the changes in her own life.
The reason I struggled with this review is that I couldn’t help but take it personally. First, I amthat Spanish girl with no mother and an absent father that Evelyn Herrera (changed to Hugo) started off as (and btw, we still say Spanish in parts of NYC, its not “Latino Harlem”, lol). I’m also mixed, like Monique. So I got it, and saw and felt what life was like for both of them because I actually live it. You never forget the sting of being asked “what are you?”. (Spoiler alert: I’m human).
I think my problem was more with Evelyn (which just so happens to be my aunt’s name). Yes, she wanted to be famous just to be famous (Kardashianesque), and did anything she could to get there. It wasn’t for the art, or the work, or even the fans. She just wanted the attention and glory. And before I’m patronized, I get that that’s part of Hollywood culture. I’m well aware of the industry, how cutthroat and at times, disgusting, it is towards women. While I think it’s twisted into a narrative that gives the reader the sense that Evelyn is the one in control her path to success, I had a hard time believing or accepting that. After all, she dyes her hair blonde, changes her name, and gets rid of her New York accent. And while I can completely understand that (because I have done the exact same thing), it’s far from feeling you have power and more like saying “ok, I know I won’t be accepted otherwise and I need a fucking job so I can eat ”. Obviously, my path differs completely from that of a person whose only goals seemed to be fame and an Oscar win. I refused to show my body off, or give sex to someone I knew would get me ahead. I could have. But I didn’t. I still could. And I don’t. And while I don’t take issue with “doing what you have to do”, I’m not going to pretend that women like Evelyn who use people to get ahead make life easier for the rest of us who try to survive the dead end jobs, long hours, sacrifice, and constant rejection. And it’s also dangerous for the women and men who don’t use sex because their perpetrators can just say “see, we all do it”. No. We don’t.
What is abundantly clear is that we aren’t supposed to like everything about Evelyn. Despite the title, the book isn’t really about her seven husbands. Far from it. In fact, her relationships with men show how strong and determined she is. For example, you see her surviving spousal abuse and recovering from a terrible man’s determination to ruin her. I understood why Evelyn goes ahead with the marriages, but still hated the message it sent. Not because she went through with it but because it hurt others. Especially when you see the impact her unwavering ability to go from man to man has on the person who is her true love.
The author makes her point by channeling the reader’s confusion through Monique, whose personal feelings about Evelyn yo-yo from disdain to adoration to hate. She wanted us to feel that unease with Evelyn, too. Reid gives us a complex lead character, so that the reader is left not really knowing how to take her, which was, of course, the point. Because all of us are shades of gray. Evelyn doesn’t want to cover up with the fakeness of Hollywood anymore, especially when she has suffered very real loss that no movie can sugarcoat. But it’s too late. For her and for us. Because the reader won’t forget that she lived a life of lies to get material wealth at any cost. And like most rich people, they fixate on staying rich, even if they lose who they are in the process. Making it worse: her condescending attitude and self-perceived authority over Monique, and her tone of “I’m teaching you a lesson, don’t be ungrateful” made my stomach turn. Because Evelyn’s not a nice person. And Hollywood isn’t to blame for making her that way. She chose to be.
My next issue is that I just don’t like reading books about the entertainment industry. And that distaste and boredom has nothing to do with this novel or its author. But I went ahead with this read anyway because it was so highly rated. While I think it is important to show the impact having to hide who you truly are has on people who have to keep up a facade to please a studio or employer, it doesn’t interest me through the lens of a fake industry where the cruelty of the clique is not only the norm, it’s encouraged. Where the same people are famous and get nominated for the same awards over and over and we have no choice but to hear about it. Even in the book, Evelyn must do things because she isn’t part of the “in” crowd. She isn’t there because of nepotism, or because she had money and could spend years signing up for acting classes instead of actually work. The problem is..this happens to women still and in every industry. And most of us don’t act the way Evelyn chose to. Evelyn continued to be horrible after getting fame. So, it’s no excuse. And worst of all, Evelyn does not rise above any of it. If you are looking for that kind of hero, get a GPS to find your way out because it doesn’t exist here.
Do I think you should read this? Yes. I do. I know this review may have seemed harsh, but like I said… I have my reasons and I’m cognizant of all of them. I think the enduring love story within its pages is worthy of an audience. And it’s important, because denying its existence is a pain that is still prevalent today. We can’t keep fooling ourselves by thinking a hashtag, some “woke” tweets, and/or marches will actually change things. We still have much work to do.
I wont give anything away about Evelyn’s true love. After all, it was the only thing authentic about her.
Rating: 3/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
Dream Cast: 🎥
Young Evelyn Hugo: Ana De Armas
Evelyn Hugo (age 70): Rita Moreno
Celia St. James: Kiernan Shipka
Celia St. James (40’s >): Amy Adams
Monique: Zazie Beetz
Monique’s mom: Geena Davis
Harry Cameron: Luke Evans
Don Adler: Nicholas Hoult