Last year, a (very) small group of my online bookish friends, who met through a book forum, decided to “get together” to form an informal book club. The first book we read was Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that we enjoyed our discussions more than the actual book.
The second book (and first for the year) is Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Who exactly is Evelyn Hugo, and who cares that she has seven husbands? Well, this novel answers those questions, at least the part about who Evelyn Hugo is. The part about why she has seven husbands and why we should care, not so much.
Evelyn Hugo is a Hollywood celebrity who made showbiz headlines back in the 1960s for her “exotic” beauty and daring roles. Aside from her acting skills and bold movie choices, she was known for her tan skin, platinum blonde hair, and dark eyebrows. She was one of the first nonwhite actresses in Hollywood to play “white” roles, and in her ambition to become a superstar at all cost, slept her way to the top, accumulating her fair share of husbands along the way.
Now, she is 79 years old, retired, and a generous benefactor to cancer societies and the LGBTQ+ community. To promote the upcoming auction of her gowns for a good cause, her people contact Vivant, a popular lifestyle magazine, to do a piece about her. Although Evelyn was the talk of the town back in the day and became a well-respected celebrity in her own right, she rarely did interviews with the press. Vivant was more than pleased to get the call, except Evelyn had requested Monique Grant, and only Monique Grant, who was one of the less senior writers of the magazine, to do the interview. Although a talented writer who had done a few impressive and relevant articles, Monique was not one of the best writers of the magazine, and the magazine’s editor-in-chief was hesitant to send her to do such an important feature. However, it’s Monique or no one.
Monique is equally shocked (but delighted) at the request; however, we all know that when a Hollywood superstar requests for a nobody writer to do a feature about her, said superstar probably has an ulterior motive. Of course, she does…but readers won’t know what until the end of the story. YES, you have to READ THROUGH THE ENTIRE BOOK to learn about it.
Monique goes to Evelyn’s apartment, not knowing what to expect, and she is star struck when she finally meets Evelyn. However, Evelyn has more surprises in store. She doesn’t actually want to do a feature for Vivant, she wants Monique to write her biography, independent of the magazine. Too good to be true? Well, of course it is.
Monique is a mature, intelligent, writer, who has a talent for presenting stories from unique perspectives and for “humanizing” difficult topics. When given the chance to write about Evelyn’s life, rather than focusing on the fact that she was probably the first Cuban woman to play breakout roles especially made for white actresses or that Evelyn is a staunch advocate of the LGBTQ+ community and cancer research, she focuses on….her love life.
Yes, Monique decides that the most interesting thing about Evelyn is her seven husbands and who the love of her life was. I doubt Monique would be getting a Pulitzer anytime soon…
So, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is exactly what it describes: A story about the seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Through her seven marriages, we get a glimpse of the kind of woman she was (or was not). Coming from a poor family from Hell’s Kitchen, Evelyn learned at a very early age that you can’t just wait for things to happen – you have to make them happen. And that’s exactly what she did. From her actual and figurative journey out of Hell’s Kitchen and into the upper echelons of Hollywood, Evelyn married her way to the top.
Apart from the short glimpses of Monique’s life and her interactions with Evelyn, the book is mainly divided into the latter’s seven husbands and describes not only the glitz and glamour of Hollywood but also the secret (maybe not so secret in this day and age) lives of celebrities and the price of fame. Nothing we don’t all know about thanks to social media, countless documentaries, and the recent #MeToo movement. It also touches on issues such as gender equality and double standards as well as sexuality and stereotypes.
I believe that this novel is classified as “women’s fiction” and/or “chick lit.” I have nothing against this genre, and I’m sure there are excellent novels classified under this category, but it’s really not a genre I would select if given a choice, only because I don’t find most of the topics interesting. The same is true for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Aside from not being interested in the secret lives of celebrities or the trials and tribulations of an aspiring journalist, I found all the characters quite flat and cliché. The story had no major conflict, and except for the big reveal in the end (which you knew was bound to happen considering that the book gives readers no other reason to continue reading it), the story was flat and uneventful. The only reason why I kept reading it was because I had a schedule to keep with my reading buddies. I’m glad I got the chance to read outside my “comfort zone,” but now I think I will be going back and staying there forever.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017) – Taylor Jenkins Reid
Washington Square Press; 385 pages (tpb)
Personal rating: 1/5