CW‘s: Sexual assault, statutory rape, domestic abuse, cheating, homophobia, biphobia, alcoholism, death of a loved one, serious illnesses, mentions of suicide, depression
Reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her story, no one is more astounded than Monique herself.
Determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career, Monique listens in fascination. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s – and, of course, the seven husbands along the way – Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Why I loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
“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.”
I get now why everyone calls Evelyn Hugo a queen. She‘s one of the most interesting characters I have ever read about and also one of the most authentic. Evelyn felt very real to me, like she was an actual person and this was her biography, which is the highest form of character development for me. I loved how she was allowed to be a lot of things all at once: she’s determined, manipulative, cunning and ambitious. But she can also be kind, is very smart and gets things done. She can be charismatic but also withdrawn. I love the nuances here, that she’s so complex and allowed to make terrible mistakes without getting demonized for it. The portrayal of such a flawed, ‘unlikable’ woman was perfect and I truly appreciated her character. I could always understand why Evelyn made the choices she did and how she was willing to sacrifice a lot for success but also her loved ones. Everyone makes mistakes and certainly horrible things for the people you love. That was very clear when it came to Evelyn. It just made her even more realistic. However, I also felt like she was inspiring, as she took what she wanted and never apologized for it. She knew she made mistakes, but it took her where she wanted and she would do it all over again. Basically she’s a Slytherin Queen and exactly how I thought Slytherin’s should be portrayed: not as purely evil, but also flawed, cunning and with the potential for love and loyalty as well.
I also loved Monique and that she is not just a tool to tell the story, but also a complex character with her own story and problems. She is full of passion and uncertainty when it comes to fulfilling her dream and that’s very relatable for me as a fellow writer. She’s more into journalism, but the business is hard and there is no security for her. Even though Evelyn is the main character and titular character of the book, we also get an insight into Monique’s life and her struggles. She feels like she is not where she wants to be and has ‘failed’ at marriage. I’m not as old as she is (Monique is 30ish), but I related to this feeling of having failed at life, because you are not where everyone else is or have not achieved as much.
“Evelyn looks at me with purpose. “Do you understand what I’m telling you? When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.”
In the end, I liked that she was allowed to be uncertain, but was also pushed by Evelyn to be more unapologetic – she really took something from her story and managed to use it in her own life, like some advice. Both of them only meet for a few weeks, but she really impacted Monique’s life and in the end we find out why exactly. I liked that everything connected with them and Monique was not a random choice, but that it actually made sense. Their relationship itself was very interesting as it progressed over the course of the book. I really liked that both of them had a connection that went beyond Monique just interviewing her, it all had a purpose.
Evelyn‘s Story is very hard to read, but full of so many important themes. Evelyn has been through a lot in her life and we see all of the, all the ugly parts, all the horrible decisions she had to make to get ahead in the business and protect those she most loved. The story is divided into her seven husbands and that’s the main promise: why did she have so many husbands? This is definitely a heavy story, as it deals with abuse, cheating, abortions and of course homo/biphobia. Evelyn is a Cuban bisexual woman and that’s truly not easy in the 1950s. She is forced to hide who she is for her entire life, because back then it was not acceptable to be anything other than heterosexual and she had to keep her identity hidden, as to not lose her career or get incriminated. Furthermore, Evelyn is also faced with a lot of biphobia, especially as back then she was figuring things out as she went, as bisexuality wasn’t really considered to be anything valid back then. Then she’s also forced to hide her Cuban heritage to get roles, as the business is very racist as well. She’s faced with sexism, racism and homophobia from all sides, so we get a vivid picture of how life was back ten, when she was not allowed to express herself in far of getting prosecuted. We get a lot of insight into the movie industry and its problems as well, when we see Evelyn struggle to make it, experiences both success and failure throughout her career. I really felt with her the entire time and couldn’t tear my eyes away from her story.
“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”
There was also a great emphasis on love of any kind. It was fantastic to see so many kinds of love represented. We see how Evelyn builds a family for herself and how dearly she loves her daughter and wants her to be happy. Furthermore, we see a lot of her best friend Harry, who is also like family to her and the father of her child. He was one of the supporting characters that really mattered and that we saw throughout it all. He was always there for Evelyn, right from the beginning to the very end. Harry is a truly good guy and cares about his friends. He’s the best friend you could wish for. He’s also gay, so he understands Evelyn’s struggles in having to hide from the world, who he truly is. I adored their deep friendship and how much it meant to Evelyn. Then we have Celia St. James, Evelyn’s great love, who is a lesbian actress, quickly befriending Evelyn becoming one of her most important confidants. Their love is pretty tragic, because the odds are against them, as they can never make their relationship official. They always have to hide, afraid someone will find out and it’s putting a strain on their relationship. I found them to be an interesting couple, as we see the ups and downs and how you can hurt someone so terribly that you love so much. Both Celia and Evelyn certainly made their mistakes and had horrible fights too, so it wasn’t an easy road for them. They could be toxic to each other at times, with Celia’s biphobic comments and how she got very mean as well as Evelyn’s rash decisions. I wouldn’t really say that I shipped them because of that, but they definitely had an interesting dynamic.
IN CONCLUSION: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was a fantastic historical fiction novel about a bisexual Cuban actress navigating the movie industry in the 1950s and trying to keep her greatest love, despite the odds being against them. It was a very emotional read dealing with a lot of hard topics, but beautifully written. Evelyn Hugo was such an authentic protagonist and really took the stage.
Did you like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? What is your favorite historical fiction book?