The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I really enjoyed being part of Book Club again discussing Lilac Girls, so was on the edge of my seat to find out what our second choice would be. I was delighted that it was a novel that has been getting a lot of love at the moment - The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. We are due to discuss this at the end of May but I thought I would jump ahead a bit. Let's dive in shall we?
Notoriously private Hollywood star and 7 times married Evelyn Hugo decides to give a final interview to relatively unknown journalist Monique Grant. Evelyn is charismatic, enigmatic and gives Monique a no holds barred, honest interview. But as Evelyn's story unfolds, Monique is left wondering why Evelyn has hand-picked her for the interview.
Where to start! First, with Evelyn herself. She truly shines off the pages in this novel. The story starts in the 1950s when fiercely ambitious Cuban immigrant, Evelyn, finds out about a man in her neighbourhood going to work in Hollywood. Having always dreamed of being a movie star, Evelyn decides to marry Ernie and go with him to Hollywood, choosing to marry for ambition rather than love.
This provides an interesting dilemma in the reader's mind. In a world of #MeToo, it feels unusual to have such a ballsy woman going after what she wants and offering her body in order to achieve her ambitions. It never reads as uncomfortable, merely Evelyn making a choice and doing whatever she can to make it happen. At its heart, Evelyn owns all the choices she makes and they seem to be merely transactions in her eyes. Evelyn uses her stunning figure and good looks to win roles in movies and contracts with studios.
As Evelyn's star rises, she becomes part of the Hollywood publicity machine and what a machine it is. She is seen stepping out with notable Hollywood stars to advance her own career and at times theirs. A divorce from Ernie is quietly and quickly arranged and she marries the studio's biggest star. Their relationship is tied in with the fortune of the other and as Evelyn truly becomes a star and Don's wanes, he becomes physically abusive to her. With all of the choices that Evelyn is making and how far she is willing to do to access that fame, it is the Hollywood publicity machine that is the one that comes across as ultimately the most seedy and ultimately fake.
At the heart of the story is the love between Evelyn and her true love. (I'm trying not to give anything away here). In such intolerant times Evelyn falls in love with someone who is deemed deeply inappropriate. If this was ever to be discovered the life and career of Evelyn would be destroyed. The book then focuses on how far Evelyn will go to protect her secret and so Evelyn marries husband after husband to keep their secret safe. The chapters are divided like a Quentin Tarantino movie with a description of each husband such as 'Poor Ernie Diaz'. It is at this point that you realise the 7 Husbands are merely bit parts in a film.
The other relationship I loved was between Evelyn and her producer Harry, her 'True Blue'. Harry and Evelyn have been best friends for years. When Evelyn's secret is threatened, he agrees to become her husband in a marriage of convenience. They become parents and lose a child which Harry never recovers from.
The book also raises issues around celebrity. Evelyn talks about 'Evelyn Hugo-ing' the heck out of something and it demonstrates that the brightest star is not always necessarily the happiest.
I did feel that because Evelyn shone so bright, Monique's connection became almost an afterthought, but maybe this is the beauty of the book. Because Evelyn shines so bright, everything else becomes pale and ordinary, but when you look closer you witness the path of self destruction and unhappiness that has been left and that ultimately what you see is not always the truth.
The book was fantastic. It is like peeling back the layers of an onion, always more underneath, more that is hidden. Evelyn is not likeable at times but she is to be admired. At heart, she is a woman making choices, and owning those choices and leaving behind a mark on Hollywood, which is ultimately the fakest of all.