The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a masterpiece, and since finishing it I have been begging everyone I know to read it also. Evelyn Hugo, a fictional Marilyn Monroe type figure, enlists journalist Monique to write her memoir; a tell-all, documenting the entirety of her life and acting career, including the story behind her seven husbands. The good, the bad, and the ugly are uncovered, weaving together to create a compelling narrative that tugs at the heartstrings.
The most striking thing about this book is how real Evelyn Hugo feels to the reader. As a character, she is immaculately fleshed out and developed without a single gap or fault, with very human feelings and thoughts that are often not addressed fully in other books. Every relationship, both romantic and platonic that Hugo reflects upon is full of personality and charm, even when dark themes are discussed and exhibited. Most importantly though, Evelyn Hugo is flawed. Her relationships and attitudes towards people demonstrate that she is not the embodiment of perfection that Hollywood starlets are perceived to be. There are multiple points when the reader disapproves of Hugo’s choices or thoughts, a refreshing feeling when many books evoke unconditional support for the character being followed. She is neither a protagonist nor an antagonist, filling both roles at interchanging moments that make Hugo feel even more human and relatable.
The novel also deals with dark and important themes without making them seem as if they were thrown in for the sake of it. Very real issues facing women both generally and within the context of Hollywood stardom are discussed in depth, offering a darker emotional perspective to the story. Sexual exploitation within the industry for career progression forms a harrowing backstory to Hugo’s rise to fame, an issue that has obviously transcended further than the time in which the book is set, and domestic violence behind the scenes offers more reflection on issues facing women both then and now. The most interwoven theme relating to Hugo’s life is sexuality, discussing the restrictions and concealment that queer women, especially in the public eye, had to endure.
The story of Monique Grant, the journalist recruited by Hugo to write for her, is equally as compelling. Although the reader is often taken out of Hugo’s story back to the present day to follow Grant, there is no moment where the intensity and emotional impact falters as a result. The extended question as to why Grant was specifically chosen for the job of writing for Hugo is a continued undercurrent with a moment of realisation that is impossible to predict, leaving readers hooked right until the final pages.
Without a doubt, this is my favourite book of all time now. I have never had such a big emotional reaction to a work of literature, and I highly doubt another book will be able to come close for a long time. I finished this book wishing for more literature on Evelyn Hugo and wanting to watch her films, which unfortunately do not exist. A reread is definitely on the horizon for me, and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since closing this gem.
Words by Sam Hewitson
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