I had heard nothing but good things about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and I was not disappointed. But no one really prepared me for how much this book would destroy me. Talk about crying while baking cookies and listening to this audiobook tears.
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie 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 for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. 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. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
TW: Sexual assault, domestic physical abuse, statutory rape
Let’s just talk about books that destroyed me. I could tell pretty early on that this book would be a five star read for me. Now sitting having utterly devoured this audiobook, I can tell you. Yes. It is five stars. All of the stars in the sky. Because The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was complex, emotional, and moving. There were parts that made me rage in solidarity, weep with compassion, and wring my heart in agony. Evelyn is enigmatic, alluring, and honest. She doesn’t hold her punches, telling it like it is, highlighting the good and the bad. The morally grey, the questionable choices, and the ethics all of it.
Evelyn was someone you are drawn to. Like a moth to a flame. A person who knows they want to make it, to escape, and will do anything to get it. She’s the person you admire from afar and gossip about behind closed doors. And that’s Hollywood. She fought tooth and nail, sacrificed the deepest desires of her heart, all to make it. To achieve the dream. And she is unapologetic about it. We are encouraged all the time not to think of this story, of Evelyn, as black and white. We shouldn’t make our excuses for her, instead we should see her exactly as she was.
Hiding in plain sight
On the way she had to erase her own Cuban American background, the reality of her abusive father, and to constantly play the game. Because that’s what touches me the most about Evelyn. We all know that life isn’t fair. That the cards are stacked against us as women of color, and Evelyn plays the game better than anyone. Doing everything it took to succeed in the face of the world, but not without scarring her heart in the meantime. And that’s what also cut to the center of my heart – the pain of having to hide who she is. How this grates at you, changes the colors of your reality, constantly haunts you, and the way the pain never goes away. Whether it be because of her sexuality, her desires, or her ethnicity.
It’s this heart wrenching knowledge that this is the depths of what we have to do, our lived reality. That bisexual women like Evelyn have had to be discounted, erased, and hidden who they are to get a foot into the game. And that makes her entire story, and Monique’s story as a biracial black woman aspiring to be a writer, even more poignant. And along this line, the queerphobia during this time period is just more than painful to read about. How simple their desire to just have dinner with the one they love and both the danger and fear with an evening like that. It only highlight how in some parts of the world, this situation is still ongoing for queer people.
Themes that touched the deepest parts of my heart
So many parts of this book made me have to stop what I was doing to take notes. The very first of these themes was the connection between wanting and the need to satisfy. Evelyn remarks that she grew up connected the idea of being wanted, with the need to act on it, to satisfy. And wow if that wasn’t just the anthem of my romantic life in high school. I felt that, for the first time, I was wanted by someone else. Chosen. That this meant I had to give my all, my heart, my soul, to satisfy this other person. That the value of myself was placed in someone else’s desire.
Similar to that, Evelyn talks about the connection between sexual allure and value. The way that she relished in her ability to have power over these men. But the twisted logic where women are the ‘sirens’, the ‘enchantresses’ who are so alluring, so beautiful, that men can’t help but have her – logic and consent be damned. Almost as if they rob men of their agency, their control over their own desires. And the cultural construction of desire – as well as the differences between women and men’s desire.
Writing and twists that make you gasp
Even these things alone, stated so plainly, move me. Combine them with the way Evelyn’s persona and character is developed, and you have me sold. I don’t remember the last time I devoured an audiobook so quickly. While there is so much of this book devoted to character study and characters, the plot and story is a huge part of the book as well. We learn about Evelyn’s story to get to know her, the real Evelyn, but also to be drawn into a larger narrative.
When you get to the twist, and you will because this book draws you in, you will gasp aloud. I heard it and I thought, yes. It answers all the questions we never knew we had. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has almost a cosmic rightness to it. Like this is the way it was always going to play out as the pieces are moved across destiny’s chessboard.
Things I could also talk about but don’t have the space
- The constant erasure of Evelyn’s bisexuality and how I ache for her pain
- Evelyn’s talk about her own domestic abuse and coming to terms with it (forgiveness versus absolution)
- Monique’s character and how Evelyn’s story inspires Monique to be more honest and demanding with herself
- All the problematic examples of sexism and racism within Hollywood during the 1960s
There is so much to say about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. It is a rich, complex, and layered story. I want to give it to everyone this year and I now understand why everyone is so obsessed. It is a story about people, about their good and bad, about the deals they have to make and sacrifices they gladly give up. At the same time it’s a story about love – love lost, love found, love squandered and love ruined. And a story about coming clean, telling the whole truth behind the lies and facade, our forced illusions.