✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2017
Content warnings: Domestic abuse, alcoholism, misogyny, child neglect, statuatory rape, rape, underage marriage, slut shaming, homophobia, biphobia, toxic relationships, abortion, terminal illness, death/loss.
Evelyn Hugo, Hollywood starlet of the 1950s, has had a successful acting career spanning decades. She’s infamous for her talent and beauty, but it’s her scandalous personal life and seven marriages that is most intruiging. In a tell-all interview, Evelyn aged 79 finally reveals her life-story to young journalist, Monique.
What I liked
- The plot
- Evelyn’s characterisation
- The themes
- The setting (1950-80s Hollywood)
- LGBTQ+ representation
- Complex relationships
What I disliked
- The jumping from past to present
- Monique’s arc
Plot and Structure
The story begins with Monqiue, a young and fresh journalist who has recently started working for the magazine Vivant. When Evelyn Hugo gets in touch with Vivant to specifically request that Monique interview her, Monique is elated and believes she’s finally getting her big break. What follows is a story divided into seven main sections – one devoted to each of Evelyn’s husbands – as Evelyn recounts her life-story to Monique. Throughout, it flits from past to present, with a majority of the middle section focused on Evelyn’s past.
Similar to other books by Taylor Jenkins Reid (TJR) that I’ve read, the book is more character focused than plot heavy and the plot that is present is driven by the drama and emotional ups and downs of Evelyn’s life. Much like Daisy Jones and the Six it provides an insight into the explosive, tumultuous lifestyles of the rich and famous. It touches on the corruption of Hollywood within the context of the MeToo campaign, shedding light on the rampant misogyny and abuse that women in Hollywood and the media industry have had to endure and continue to suffer from. Most of the topics it touches upon are upsetting, but the way in which they were handled is incredible. There’s an authenticity to it and the characterisation of Evelyn’s character is so strong that it didn’t feel in any way exploitative. In general, I loved the plot from beginning to end and had only one gripe – Monique’s arc.
This was my second read of the book (see the end of the post for my first review), and I remember being indifferent about Monique the first time, but this time I just felt like she was unnecessarily stealing precious page time from Evelyn. I was so invested in Evelyn’s story and so addicted to her character and life, that I wanted to stay there and not be pulled back to the present. Monique does have a very important part to play in the story, and without her it wouldn’t be the same story, but unfortunately, her character and backstory is underdeveloped and in comparison to Evelyn who was such a big personality and character, she fell completely flat for me.
I really liked the writing style in this book. It’s not over the top prose; the language is modern but there’s an emotional depth to it which touched my heart. The dialogue is well-written and isn’t stiff or awkward like a lot of dialogue in historical fiction written by modern authors.
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.
Characters and Relationships
Oh, Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn… as a character I love her with every ounce of my being. It is Evelyn’s character that makes this book worth every single one of those five stars. She’s one of the most complex, flawed and nuanced characters I’ve read in fiction. I love that TJR built Evelyn on so many cliche tropes but elevated her way above that. On the surface, Evelyn is a beautiful, successful Hollywood actress that every man wants to be with and every woman wants to be, but there’s so. much. more. to her than that. I could expand but would slip over into spoiler territory. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on Evelyn’s character and her sexuality you can read a full analysis here 👀
The relationships are every bit as good as Evelyn’s individual character. It’s not just the main romance, but even it’s all of Evelyn’s relationships. Although some of them are awful and harmful to Evelyn, the honesty of what TJR captured in those relationships means that I can’t do anything but admire what she achieved with those relationships. Evelyn’s relationships and friendships are all complex and turbulent just like her and I enjoyed reading about those ups and downs even when they were at their extremes. The main love story is stunning and goes in directions you won’t anticipate.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is one of my all time favourite books. This book was the reason I fell back in love with reading and for that reason alone it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, this book also deals with very complex and important topics in a respectful, illuminating way. The characters (even minor ones) are dynamic and flawed as are the relationships. Although upon re-read, I felt that Monique’s arc could’ve been improved on, her significance within the story cannot be understated. I love that TJR manages to subvert all expectations and tropes with this story and if it’s your first time reading, I guarantee it will take you by surprise.
I’d recommend The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo if:
You’ve read Daisy Jones and the Six and liked it OR you’re looking for a historical fiction depicting the glitz, glamour and gossip of vintage Hollywood which explores hard-hitting topics, has a flawed, complex female protagonist and a heart-wrenching love story.
This review is based on a re-read. I first read the book in January 2020, if you would like to read my original review you can find it over at Goodreads (it’s also spoiler free).
Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.