The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Length: 12 hours
Narrator: Alma Cuervo, Robin Miles, Julia Whelan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Original Publication Date: 2017
Genre(s): Historical fiction, Romance, Queer
Monique Grant’s life isn’t exactly going the way she planned. Her husband left her, and she’s a little-known journalist writing fluff pieces for a magazine. So when Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo asks her to pen her biography, everyone is shocked — including Monique. But this is the chance of a lifetime, so she listens in fascination as Evelyn tells the story of her life: from moving to LA in the 50s to leaving stardom behind in the 80s, and all seven husbands along the way. And as Evelyn’s story comes to an end, it becomes clear why she wanted Monique over any other writer—and the truth of it may be too much for Monique to handle.
“I spent half my time loving her and the other half hiding how much I loved her.”
Am I slowly becoming a Taylor Jenkins Reid stan? I think I am. Maybe in Another Life was my introduction to the author and blew me away; Malibu Rising, published earlier this year, wasn’t as mind-blowing but was enjoyable and interesting enough. But The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo takes the cake when it comes to Reid’s novels, cracking my heart in two and sending me into an existential crisis. Maybe it’s because I’m quick to relate to some of the themes, or maybe it’s because it’s just genuinely a great novel — either way, I’m floored.
The novel is told in first-person POV with alternating perspective chapters. The novel is set in present-day with Monique as our narrator, who is listening to Evelyn tell her life story. These chapters are set in the past and in first-person from Evelyn’s perspective, broken up by various news articles from the past reporting on her. I will admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Monique’s POV. I didn’t care for her as a person or find much interest in her life. I know the novel’s focal point is Evelyn, which is good because it is fascinating and emotional, but when the perspective switched, I found myself jolted out of the story and into Monique’s boring life. Luckily you don’t stay there for long, but it’s definitely the least interesting part of the novel and probably my only con. This is probably just personal preference, of course, but I just wish I could have cared for Monique more than I did.
Evelyn, on the other hand, is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read this year. After finishing the novel, I feel like she is a real person and someone who I deeply care about. I know that’s silly, but that’s how in-depth and real her story felt. I heavily related to her and felt compassion towards her and experienced great sympathy for her. I would think I’m not the only one who felt this way, seeing all the positive reviews for the novel. Evelyn’s story really touched me, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up while reading this novel. Honestly, if I hadn’t listened to the novel for the majority at work, I would have sobbed. But you can’t really start crying in your cubicle over an audiobook…
Evelyn is a very complex character. I loved her story of coming from nothing and making something of herself, yet to find none of that really mattered in the end. What mattered were the people she loved, not her movies or fame or money. I loved her relationship with Harry. But I especially loved her identity and how she described her sexuality.
“I hated being called a lesbian. Not because I thought there was anything wrong with loving a woman, mind you. No, I’d come to terms with that a long time ago. But Celia only saw things in black and white. She liked women and only women. And I liked her. And so she often denied the rest of me.”
Evelyn is bisexual. I think bisexuality is often misunderstood, even today with the full spectrum of queerness. There are so many labels and different types of sexuality—in my opinion, too many. I think you should just be you and not have to give a label to yourself and put yourself (or your interests) in a box. But of course that’s just my opinion and preference—there are people out there who fought hard to own their sexuality and give it a name, and I understand that as well. I just personally wish we were in a world where “coming out” didn’t exist, and we didn’t have to define our sexualities—we can just say “I love this person” and that’s that. But I digress. Evelyn is bisexual and gets upset when people call her a lesbian or “a dyke,” etc. At first she doesn’t even really realize she’s bi—she’s attracted to men but also a woman. One woman. Eventually she comes to terms with being bisexual, of course, but how confusing is that? To love men and date men and sleep with men and then suddenly you’re kissing your best friend who’s not a man? I heavily related to that. That’s literally my life story, too. So I understood the struggle of her sexuality and self-identity. And that relatability made me love Evelyn and her story and this entire novel so very much. There were so many passages talking about love, friendship, intimacy, sexuality, and passion that truly resonated with me. I think that’s why I felt so connected to this novel and why it made me so emotional. I love when a book means something to me the way this one did. I love that feeling of being seen, of relating.
“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.”
The novel is also sad to me because it depicts aging. Being old. Losing loved ones, illness—death. Those things scare me deeply and towards the end of the novel, when Evelyn is old and has lived an entire life of love and loss, it was almost too much for me to handle. Seriously my coworkers are very lucky I kept pausing the audiobook to collect myself and breathe, because I almost lost it. My heart was bursting and cracking the entire 12 hours I listened to this novel. I already want to read it again.
I know this was a very personal review, but there’s no other way I could have reviewed this novel. It was a deeply personal read for me, so it’s not surprising that I responded and reacted the way I did. I hope this review is still valid and objective enough to convince you to read the book (if you haven’t already). Or maybe you enjoy emotional reviews like this and you, too, can relate and want to read it even more now. Regardless, this book touched my heart, and for that, I am obviously giving it the highest rating I can. I was always enthralled in Evelyn’s story, got lost in the narration and even almost forgot this book is a work of fiction. It’s that good, in my opinion. And I highly recommend it.