For veteran readers, walking into a bookstore and finding oneself surrounded by row upon row of books can feel therapeutic. For others, it can be overwhelming not knowing which aisles to peruse or which books to choose. Fear not! To be transported to a romantic and intense adventure in the 1950s and 1960s, look no further than “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.”
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is a passionate and phenomenal read that tells the story of a legendary Hollywood actress who paved her path to fame and success in the most unlikely way. The tale is so compelling that it makes one wonder if it is truly fictional. Eager readers can find it in the young adult section of many local bookstores, tucked into the historical fiction or queer romance area.
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo“ presents the story of actress Evelyn Hugo’s journey to Hollywood fame beginning at the age of 14. Hugo will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She seeks to be the person women wish they could be and men wish they could be with.
As evidenced by the title, Hugo lived a glamorous life with seven different husbands throughout her career. After she retires, Hugo decides to hire journalist Monique Grant to write her story in exchange for a photoshoot. This quasi-biography follows Hugo’s journey, portraying the brutal truths of what it meant to be a woman in the 1950s, the struggles of reaching fame in Hollywood and the beauty of a woman who will fight for her dream.
To preface its due praise, it is important to note the trigger warnings applicable to the novel. Topics including sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse, cheating, homophobia, biphobia, alcoholism, and suicide are intertwined with the story. One ought to consider this carefully prior to picking up the novel.
In total, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” deserves 4.5/5 stars. Reid’s decisions to structure the novel as if it were an actual biography and include tabloid-style pages make it easy to follow Hugo through her life, with each chapter being more scandalous than the next. Each one of her husbands marks a turning point in her journey. The book’s sections are labeled by which husband she was married to at the time, which allows the reader to realize that her fame and the status of her love life are not mutually exclusive.
Being as beautiful as she was and more cunning than people often gave her credit for, Hugo worked her way to the top by using the power men had, specifically that of her husbands’. Perhaps she had a unique kind of love for each of her husbands, but each relationship originated from her ambition and ruthless nature with the exception of one. The manner in which Reid was able to make Hugo so complex yet lovable warrants a standing ovation. It is evident that Reid did her research about decades past. From the descriptions of Hollywood scenery and culture to the character development, it is easy to fall into Hugo’s world.
Creating a realistic time period is not Reid’s only strength. She is also skilled at portraying heavy social issues such as homophobia, sexual assault, alcoholism, and suicide. Seeing these topics tackled through Hugo’s view opens up a new perspective for the audience. While the book is a piece of historical fiction, it shows how much American society has progressed and where it has lacked progress. Additionally, Hugo is not a character that’s initially easy to love. In fact, one might consider her to be morally grey. While she is not evil in any sense of the word — her morals and values are respected by the audience and those who are close to her — it’s the way she puts her morals into action that makes her a polarizing personality.
While this novel is beautifully written, it merits slightly less than a full five stars. This piece is focused on Hugo, and although Hugo hires Grant to write her biography, the side plot surrounding Grant feels out of place. Hugo is a far more interesting and developed character, and the reader’s love for Hugo might cause them to skim over the chapters about Grant. In this novel, there are two plots: one for Grant and one for Hugo. These plots come together in the most shocking way. There is an apparent desire to keep the novel strictly about Hugo.
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is a read appropriate for anyone, regardless of one’s age or typical preference in genre. The beauty of the characters brings out emotion, curiosity, and fascination not just in 1950s American society but in the greater world and the dynamics in which humans thrive. It emphasizes the sacrifice and commitment that can be seen in many different communities. Netflix is scheduled to adapt the novel into a show, so pick it up before then!