Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a delectable tale of ambition and courage, true love, and the price of fame. The more I think about this book, the more it reveals to me its hidden gems, the more I realize how much greater it is than the sum of its parts, and the more I miss Evelyn Hugo.

Writing books that are deceptively richer than they appear seems to be a real strength of this author. Along with creating characters, particularly celebrities, that you’d swear are real. And writing a story far more captivating and unforgettable than the one you expect.

Now that I’ve fallen in love with another Taylor Jenkins Reid character (I wrote about others here), I want to meet more! I’ve already got my eyes on her previous book, One True Loves.

But before succumbing to its charms, I’d like to bask a bit longer in the glow of the mesmerizing Evelyn Hugo by telling you about her.
Seven husbands. Which one did she love best? Which one was the real one?

Evelyn Hugo is an octogenarian, fictional movie star who was once considered the most beautiful woman in the world. You’d swear you’ve been reading real-life headlines for decades about her ginormous breasts, the startling contrast between her creamy mocha skin tone (from her Cuban heritage) and platinum blonde hair (from a bottle), her circle of narcissistic actor friends and exes, and her sometimes shocking cinematic roles. Since marrying her seventh husband and retiring from the spotlight, she has remained very private about her life. She has refused to divulge a single one of her many juicy secrets to anyone, until now.

Now she promises to spill it all to a magazine reporter. But only to a particular one: 35-year old, struggling writer, Monique Grant. Who has absolutely NO IDEA how she landed on Evelyn Hugo’s radar.

Monique has been going through some rough times and doubting everything about herself lately, so she’s taken aback in the beginning. But she can’t walk away from such an amazing career opportunity. The problem is that her employer, Vivant magazine, expects her to write a fluffy summer cover story, and Evelyn isn’t on board with that. She is offering a blockbuster, tell-all autobiography, to be published only after her death, as told to Monique Grant—or nothing at all.
When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.
While Monique struggles to come up with a plan for keeping her job, she pays daily visits to Evelyn in her home, and they develop a wary but respectful and comfortable relationship. The story unfolds mostly from Evelyn’s point of view as she talks about her difficult childhood, her various movies, and her life with and without each husband. In between, old tabloid stories fill in gaps and spin events, and Monique reflects on what she has heard and wonders how it can possibly affect her. (Because Evelyn told her there’ll be a connection between them, which is why she chose her.)

I often had a hard time switching back to Monique’s voice—sometimes I even forgot who she was and had to take a moment to reorient myself—because I was so caught up in Evelyn’s narrative that I forgot it was the past. Monique is an important character, I could totally relate to her struggle to gain confidence and get her life on the right track, and Evelyn’s story does indeed eventually intersect with hers. But Evelyn is the bright star at the center of this tale, around whom everyone else orbits.

Who was the love of Evelyn Hugo’s life? That, dear Wenches, is a most fascinating story!

There are passionate devotions, nasty breakups, clever calculations, unwavering loyalties, selfless sacrifices, ruthless rivalries, and enough drama (and glamour) for a big-budget Hollywood extravaganza. Throughout them all, Evelyn remains true to her dreams. Every time she gets knocked off her pedestal, she claws her way back stronger than ever, with her own blend of cunning, kindness, and cruelty. She works hard to walk that tightrope between sexy siren and someone you’d bring home to meet your parents.
That is the fastest way to ruin a woman’s reputation, after all—to imply that she has not adequately threaded the needle that is being sexually satisfying without ever appearing to desire sexual satisfaction.
Because of the seven husbands and elegant big-studio era, I was thinking about Elizabeth Taylor when I started reading, but this is definitely not her story! Evelyn’s fierce sense of privacy brings to mind Greta Garbo. Her beauty, Sophia Loren. Her independence, Katharine Hepburn. Her rebelliousness, Faye Dunaway. Her bleached-blonde-and-buxom brand of sexuality, Jayne Mansfield and—of course—Marilyn Monroe. But she was none of those women. She was Evelyn Hugo, a world unto herself.

This book explores themes we discuss often amongst ourselves that I didn’t expect to find here at all, and that’s what was so delightful. Evelyn Hugo is a strong, smart, and totally kickass heroine. She charts her own unique course, waging a no-holds-barred battle of wits against those who seek to limit her. If you’re so inclined there’s also ample opportunity to lust over her fabulous fashions and travel destinations. Instead of the pampered, superficial, and one-dimensional bimbo I expected, I found depth, devotion, and a single-minded, relentless dynamo. Ms. Dynamo has some particularly wonderful things to say about intimacy and trust, which she becomes rather an expert on.

Her story also leaves me marveling yet again at the persistence with which our culture and history keep trying to define complex women, with strong personalities and a wealth of accomplishments, solely through the men they marry. Because it’s only by reading between the lines—or, in this case, husbands—that you get to know the extraordinary Evelyn Hugo. Who thinks that, in the grand scheme of life, her many husbands aren’t worth nearly all the attention they get.
When you dig just the tiniest bit beneath the surface, everyone’s love life is original and interesting and nuanced and defies any easy definition.
As Evelyn promises Monique at the beginning of the book, you might hate her by the end. (Who can resist a job offer like that, haha?) She definitely put my feelings through the wringer, and I did not always agree with the things she did. I got angry at her. I got angry with her. I hurt for her. I scrambled wildly to reconcile unexpected revelations. But I couldn’t help but cheer for her, and I think her story will stay with me for a very long time—especially that absolutely perfect last sentence!

So if you’re looking for a couple of feisty heroines and a touch of old-style glamour, you might want to book a visit with the enigmatic Evelyn Hugo. I suspect that you’ll fall in love with her, too, as she reveals the secrets of an extraordinary, unrepentant life filled with bold choices. And, oh yeah, a few husbands along the way.
“Relationships are complex,” Evelyn says. “People are messy, and love can be ugly. I’m inclined to always err on the side of compassion.”
This Wench rates The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo:


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