I picked this book up thinking that I would be in for something light – a beach read. But, damn, was I wrong. Going by the name and the blurb, I really thought I’d be reading some cliched Hollywood starlet and her failed marriages tale; I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Okay, let’s get into it.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo starts with Monique, a driven reporter with no fame to her name, currently working at a small magazine, Vivant being called upon by an ageing, recluse Hollywood actress. Evelyn Hugo, one of the most famous actress ever, a recluse who has avoided the public eye for years, is finally ready to give an interview but will do so only to Monique. When she actually turns up at Hugo’s house, it turns out that she wants Monique, not to write an article as she told Vivant she wanted, but wants her to write Hugo’s biography and publish it after she dies. And, within this biography, she is willing to reveal the whole truth about her life and her seven (!!!!) husbands.
But, as she begins her tale, we soon realise that it isn’t as simple and straightforward as we thought it would be. As we go to her second husband, we realise that Evelyn is, in fact, bisexual, and falls madly and irrevocably in love with her co-star of Little Women, Celia St. James. It is then, that we realise, that these seven husbands that are referred to are nothing but a cover-up tactic for her love for Celia. The book, then, chronicles Evelyn’s life as she comes to Hollywood, falls in love and discovers her sexuality and then her relationship with Celia St. James.
The characters are so well written in this book. Evelyn Hugo, the star of this novel, is one amazing character. She does have a rags to riches narrative, but her character is so strong, self-assured, determined; she knows what she wants and is willing to go out and do what is necessary to get it. Though, she isn’t a one-dimensional character, as a regular rags to riches narrative lends itself to; she is complex, multilayered and has such a depth to her personality, and Taylor Reid portrays that so well through the prose. The way Evelyn talks about her bisexuality, her love for Celia, and justifying to her that she is enough is heartbreaking and touching and so good.
Monique, also, is quite the interesting character, because in some ways she is us as we learn about Evelyn. At least, the question that came to my mind as I read Evelyn’s story, was echoed by Monique. The way she learns how to go out and get what she wants through Evelyn’s story is also delightful.
Evelyn’s relationship with Harry, her best friend – her gay best friend and, later husband, is so sweet and beautiful. I love that they get married, not because they love each other romantically – they love each other platonically; they get married so that they can have a happy life – Evelyn with Celia, and Harry with Celia’s husband. There is also this really nice quote where Evelyn says that everyone thought that they were two pairs of heterosexual couples, but were just a bunch of homosexuals. I thought that that part was just so cute and adorable.
I guess that that was my favourite part of the book – Evelyn with Harry and Celia with John while they lived nearby and them having their respective relationships. It gets even better when Harry wants to have a baby with Evelyn – again not because of romantic or sexual love, but because of the platonic love they share for each other. Following that, there is another conversation between Celia and Evelyn about her bisexuality and Celia not being able to give her a baby, which is just so so brilliant. Not many books look at these aspects and it’s wonderful to finally read such a thing in literature.
Again, I must commend the characterisation of Evelyn Hugo. Yes, she does use her sexuality, but the way Jenkins dramatises it, it is devoid of the male gaze and makes it so much more compelling. The complete absence of male gaze in this whole book is what makes it a much more engaging read. Jenkins portrays her as a strong lead without making her an emotionless machine, like some people tend to do. She had a full range of complex emotions, and that was a joy to read.
Another bit of complexity is when, much later in the book, she talks about her relationship with Don Adler, her second husband, with Ruby, his wife after Evelyn, and Monique in the present. The way she describes her emotions towards that whole encounter and Monique judging her without understanding the circumstances is just another example of great characterization. The opinions of a person outside the whole ordeal versus the person who actually went through it.
Evelyn Hugo comes off as a woman, a full woman, who has had a life on her own terms gone through heartbreaks and has her fair share of tragedies and really just wants to tell her story to Monique. Even the deaths in the book, it doesn’t feel like it has been put there for dramatic effect; we’ve spent some time with these characters and we get to know them and their deaths feel like a natural end to their story. Again, not too many books treat their characters with such emotion
Towards the end, we find out why she picked Monique. I must admit, I would’ve liked to spend more time on that revelation and have Monique react and have a full conversation with Evelyn about it, but that is just me nitpicking.
I really loved this book, the treatment of all the characters, and writing and the pacing. Though the revelation that the Goodreads blurb emphasised so much wasn’t that much of a focus in the narrative, maybe that is just the problem with the blurb writer and, because of which, I went in with certain big expectations regarding that revelation and I was underwhelmed by it. That aside, the book is wonderful and I finished it under a week.
I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads, but it’s more of 4.5 stars for me.