“Where’s Xiaolong?” you ask, looking for your little axolotl friend.
Varian the Toadshifter looks up at you from their sewing. “Ah, Xiaolong is very sad today.” You ask why, wondering what in the world could make Xiaolong, usually so chipper and happy, so sad! “She read a book,” is all Varian says, and they point in the direction of the pond.
You follow Varian’s webbed finger and, indeed, you see the bright pink of Xiaolong’s gills poking out from behind the brush. As you approach, you hear her sniffling and hiccuping.
Xiaolong looks up at you when you approach, her eyes glistening with tears and her eyes puffy. “Hello friend,” she says, her gills a little droopy. “I just read such an amazing book.” You ask her why she is crying. “The best books are the ones that move your heart and this one moved mine so much.” She starts sobbing again.
“Maybe I should come back another time?” you ask, not wanting to invade her space.
“No!” she exclaims even louder, jumping to her feet. “I must tell you about this book! Because I think you will love it!” she says, tears streaming down her face. You ask her about the book and hand her some tissues – just in case. She takes the tissues from you, dabs her eyes, and with a big inhale says, “So, this book is called The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo…“
Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Whilst Reid’s previous books explored the lives of ordinary everyday women and the mundane but significant turning points in their lives, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo dives into the extraordinary, grand, and tumultuous life of infamous bombshell classic actress, Evelyn Hugo. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was significantly different to her other books, but what I did not expect was that I would come to love The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo so, so much. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is Reid’s best book yet.
AN UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTER STUDY
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo features two fantastic female protagonists: rookie journalist Monique who is trying to get her life together after her husband left her, and the now-elderly classical actress Evelyn Hugo, who is as charismatic as she is enigmatic. As Evelyn Hugo tells Monique her story, her rise to fame and everything she did to get there, she and the reader are transported to the 1960’s, the time of classical Hollywood. The story spans several decades, and we learn about the juicy in’s and out’s of Evelyn’s life; the scandals, the betrayals, the sex, the victories, and the losses.
Reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, what stole my heart was Evelyn Hugo herself; an enigma, a goddess among women, powerful, sensual, and a class of her own. Evelyn Hugo is a woman who knows what she wants, lives unapologetically with a refreshing awareness of her actions and their consequences, and someone who knew her own power; she knew what people thought of her and she manipulated others to her advantage. However, rather than a presentation of someone being simply good versus bad, we see a character that was compelling, fascinating, and morally grey. By the end of this book, I could not help but empathise with and love Evelyn Hugo deeply.
THEMATICALLY RICH, SET IN OLD HOLLYWOOD
Paired with Evelyn Hugo’s fantastic character study was an exploration to sexist and racist Old Hollywood. As the book follows Evelyn from the age of fourteen to her old age, a variety of themes are explored: the racism, sexism, and heteronormativity of the 1960’s, the price of fame, sensationalism of celebrity news, friendship, marriage, parenthood, and love in all its colours. Some parts were devastating and difficult to read, but it was true to its time period, capturing what it was like to be a woman under the public’s gaze and scrutiny, in a time of oppressive patriarchy.
Distinct in the story’s theme is the price of fame, such as the invasiveness of paparazzi and rumours, and how sometimes appearances mean everything. Juxtaposed with this, and also most profound, was an exploration of the terrible pain of hiding and burying the most important and truest parts of ourselves deep inside us, and how, sometimes, we have to mourn our losses in secret covered in a veil of lies and facades. There was a quote I truly loved from the book – one that, I believe, bore the essence of the story. And it is this:
You imagine a world where the two of you can go out to dinner on a Saturday night, and no one thinks twice about it. It makes you want to cry, the simplicity of it. The smallness of it. You have worked so hard for a life so grand. And now all you want are the smallest freedoms. The daily peace of loving plainly.
AT ITS HEART, A STORY ABOUT REGRETS AND LOVE
The title of this book may prompt several assumptions regarding the story’s subject matter, but at its heart, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is about living, loving, and regret. From lying about her age to white-washing herself, Evelyn Hugo’s climb to the pinnacle of fame is not without sacrifices. Beginning at Evelyn’s life as a young teen when she wasn’t Evelyn Hugo but Evelyn Elena Herrera, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, we see all of her decisions at every turn, and how Hollywood of its time shaped her to who she would become. Indeed, readers will come to learn about the woman Evelyn Hugo had to be, and how the burdens of those expectations forced upon her influenced the trajectory of her life told in hindsight tinged with bittersweet.
Reading this book, I had a burning question: who was Evelyn Hugo’s true love? Though, after discovering who her true love was, I came to realise that The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was never ultimately about who she loved, but it was about how love shaped her life and how she chose to live it. It is a heart-wrenching and beautiful exploration, and through all that she endures and survives, at the heart of this book is about the price of love, but also loving fiercely, loving without regret, and the gift of sharing your life with the people you love, however brief life may be.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is not a flawless book, but it was profound and full of heartache. It moved me. Evelyn’s story, and how it connects to Monique, is a story wrapped with intrigue, mystery, drama, and tragedy; a story that is certainly as emotional as it is captivating. Though it may be different to Reid’s other work, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo shares its deep and thoughtful portrayal and exploration of the human condition and how life and humans are messy. A fantastic book, one that I loved very much, and will never ever forget.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A classic actress tells a rookie journalist her life story, including the story of her seven husbands.
Perfect for: Readers who love emotional and heavier romance and drama stories; those who have read Reid’s previous work; readers interested in Old Hollywood.
Think twice if: you don’t have the capacity to read something heavier and emotional; also check the content and trigger warnings below.
Genre: adult, historical fiction, romance
Trigger/content warnings: anti-bisexual rhetoric, anti-gay rhetoric, physical and domestic abuse, death, suicide (off-page)
I have been a long time fan of Reid’s brilliant books, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is my most favourite yet and remains to be one of my favourite books of all time. This book is indeed hard-hitting, but you will love Reid’s emotional and profound exploration of identity, love, and life will make you yearn for more of her work.
- Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? If so, what did you think of it?
- Have you read any of Reid’s other works? What did you think of them?
- A big part of this book is about love and identity. Do you have any recommendations of books that explore similar themes?