Topiary Reading Club Vol. VIII: A Book Discussion of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
“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,” written by Taylor Jenkins Reid and published in 2017, is an adult historical fiction novel about seventy-nine-year-old Hollywood legend and enigma, Evelyn Hugo, as she reveals the truth about her tumultuous and glamorous, yet unglamorous life, and the mystery of her seven husbands to unknown, aspiring journalist Monique Grant. The story follows two timelines: one in the present, as Evelyn retells her story to Monique with the latter’s intention of writing Evelyn’s biography, and one in the past, as readers go through the events of Evelyn’s life from how she claws her way out of Hell’s Kitchen to her rise to stardom in the 50s. From the rock bottoms and soaring heights of her career to her seven marriages and her greatest, forbidden love. From the joys and tragedies of her found family to how she finally comes to embrace her identity.
“‘I think being yourself—your true, entire self—is always going to feel like you’re swimming upstream.’
“‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘But if the last few years with you have been any indication, I think it also feels like taking your bra off at the end of the day.’.”
This novel is a feat—captivating, well-crafted, multifaceted, and chock full of drama, twists and turns, and intricate themes, relationships, and characters. Truly a page-turner! The writing style is fairly straightforward—bare of overly flowery words or lyrical prose—and its simplicity is effective in delivering the sheer honesty of the narrative. It also makes it quite easy to read and palatable for beginner readers and advanced readers alike. The book is divided into seven parts—one for each of Evelyn’s seven husbands—interrupted by the occasional cut to present time and the occasional snippets of news and articles that make the story feel all the more tangible and real. The narrative feels so believable that sometimes readers would be convinced that Evelyn is actually a real person with all the events in the book being real too. At first glance, the novel may seem like a typical story of sparkling Hollywood glamour and romance, but it’s so much more than that. Reid explores various important themes like love and friendship, sexuality, homophobia and biphobia, misogyny, motherhood, divorce, abuse, the price of fame, conforming to societal norms, and identity, thus, making it a story full of richness, a story that will leave its readers breathless, raw and reeling, and ultimately, incredibly impacted.
“Don't ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don't do that.”
The star of the novel truly is Evelyn Hugo. She dominates the pages with her emerald dresses, her grit and intelligence, her breathtaking beauty, her layers and nuance. As a reader, it’s impossible not to fall in love with her despite all her flaws and questionable decisions. She’s not perfect and that’s one of the best things about her. She’s bold, cunning, resilient and ambitious. She’s someone who would do anything unapologetically to get what she wants and to protect those she loves, even if it demands crossing moral boundaries, or denying and giving up parts of herself. But the thing is, Evelyn Hugo never really existed. Her real name is Evelyn Herrera and she is a Cuban, bisexual woman. Her studio completely fabricated and reconstructed her identity, the media distorted her image, men perceived her as a sexpot and put her on some kind of pedestal, and people, including her lover, tried to invalidate her sexuality. More often than not, we too, may feel the need to wear masks and change who we are to fit a certain mold. (contains spoilers) However, towards the end of the novel, to an extent, Evelyn is able to reclaim her identity by starting to speak Spanish again, by becoming a mother and allowing that to become part of her identity, by finally being with the woman that she loves, and, with the help of Monique, by telling her story in the way that she wants it to be told.