Sunday, September 30, 2018

Book Review: "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I loved every single thing about Taylor Jenkins Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I had been meaning to read it since it was published last year, but something else always popped up in front of it, until I decided I needed to see what everyone was raving about. And boy, did I ever!!

Evelyn Hugo is a film legend. She is an Academy Award-winning actress, a philanthropist, a fashion icon, and, at her heyday, was one of the most stunningly beautiful women in the world. She retired from film in the late 1980s and mostly stayed out of the spotlight, enduring her share of tragedies. But her mystique still lingers.

When she decides to auction off some of her most iconic gowns to raise funds for charity, Evelyn also decides it's time to give an interview. She chooses to tell her story to Vivant magazine, but demands that a reasonably unknown reporter, Monique Grant, be the one to interview her. No one, Monique included, understands why Evelyn has chosen her, but the actress is utterly unwavering in her demand.

When Monique meets Evelyn, she is dazzled by her beauty, but is moved by her strength and her kindness. Evelyn isn't actually interested in giving an interview to Vivant—she wants Monique to write her biography, publishable after her death, and wants Monique to make a fortune once it's time to make a publishing deal. Although she can't figure out why Evelyn would give this prize to her, and she knows it could endanger her job, Monique jumps at the chance to hear the legend's life story in her own words.

"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."

In Evelyn's luxurious Manhattan penthouse apartment, she begins unfurling her rise to fame, from growing up in Hell's Kitchen in the 1950s to making her way to Hollywood, from getting her start in movies to her decision to leave acting 30+ years later. Of course, she lays bare the stories behind her seven marriages and the men she took into her life, and the scandals, happy moments, and pain that accompanied those relationships.

Evelyn gives Monique the unvarnished truth and doesn't want to be portrayed as a good person—she knows she was ruthlessly ambitious, hurtful, calculating, and unwavering in getting what she wanted. But at one point, she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood, and her intelligence and ambition helped get her there.

As Monique listens to Evelyn's story, and is moved by the complexities of her emotions, she has her own emotional challenges to figure out as well. And as Evelyn's journey helps shape her own decisions, she still wonders why the actress chose her. But Evelyn also helps change Monique's frame of reference in certain ways, how she thinks of situations and people.

"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."

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is compulsively readable, like one of those television miniseries you can't stop watching. I'm a huge movie fan and love reading stories of "old Hollywood," and Reid captures that mood and environment so perfectly. But this is more than a soapy melodrama—this is a book with surprising depth, thought-provoking in the subjects it touches on, and unapologetic in its portrayal of what women needed to do to succeed in Hollywood.

Reid is an amazing storyteller. I know many have spoken highly of her earlier books and I'm going to have to check those out. But this book was fantastic from start to finish. I devoured the whole book in just a few hours because I couldn't get enough of it, but of course, I'm sad now that it's over. This was a terrific story of love, loss, self-reliance, and the struggle of being true to yourself and having to adhere to the roles society puts you in.

Pick this one up!

1 comment:

  1. Like you, I read this in one evening. I was a bit of a crying mess when I finished it. Think I'll read "Daisy Jones and the Six" next.