Blurb from Goodreads
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.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerising journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means–and what it costs–to face the truth.
I’ve previously read ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’ by TJR (review here) and been sadly underwhelmed by it. It started strongly but ultimately I found it lacking in emotion. So it was with some trepidation that I started reading ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’. But I am pleased to say that I enjoyed this book a lot more.
I think one of the great differences between the two books for me was actually nothing to do with either book, but more to do with my preconceptions. These books are what I would term popcorn reads. You read them as fast as you can almost getting a sugar rush and then they quickly fade from memory once the book is over. Which I think is why I’m finding it difficult to pin down exactly what I want to say in this review.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an intoxicating read. It comes at you hard and fast, and spits you out at the end like you’ve been on the best rollercoaster ride of your life. It’s written in an extremely accessible fashion and continuously teases the reader with delightfully salacious nuggets of old Hollywood glitz and glam until the very end.
The book is about an ageing Hollywood icon named Evelyn Hugo who grants a young up and coming writer, Monique, an interview which turns into the *E! True Hollywood Story* of Evelyn’s life and times. As is evident from the book’s title Evelyn has been married on seven occasions and the story reveals the reality behind these marriages and the truth about just who was the love of Evelyn’s life.
And what I found incredibly fascinating was the theme of consent and sexual agency for women, and using one’s body as a commodity to fight against patriarchal ideologies. Evelyn was described as a sex-bomb style icon and some of the best parts of the book was when Evelyn discussed how she both felt about and somewhat orchestrated this. The book to me at times called to mind the modern classic Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann) in how it portrayed the plight of women in a male dominated Hollywood.
But while the flashback narrative of this book was incredibly compelling I feel the modern day storyline focusing on interviewer Monique was much less interesting and a lot weaker. To me Monique felt more akin to a convenient plot device rather than an authentic character. Her role was much too passenger-like and because of that the developments at the book’s climax did not have the gravitas it should have had I felt.
I also felt much of the writing style was extremely cliched and the plot twists somewhat unoriginal. Yes the book was quick and punchy, but to me it lacked emotional depth. Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy reading about Evelyn’s incredible life story but due to TJR’s narrative choices as a character her thought processes were always kept just out of reach of the reader and therefore she felt too stylised rather than deeply authentic to me. I felt a lot of the plot developments were hackneyed and in many ways too calculated. There was a sterility to the writing in my opinion and I craved more glimpses of the complexity of human emotion underneath the Evelyn Hugo persona than we were given. This book is akin to candy floss (cotton candy); it’s incredibly sweet and super delicious but once you think you’re properly tasting it it disappears in an instant.
I had similar issues when I read Daisy Jones and the Six so it could just be a case of me not being the right kind of reader for these books.
However, I did have a lot of fun reading this book. It kept my attention the whole way through, I enjoyed the peppiness of the pacing, and liked the commentary on female sexuality and the male gaze.
Recommended to someone who wants a quick and easy read with a little sprinkling of old Hollywood glamour.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Simon and Schuster, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
This paperback edition will be published 16 April 2020