The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Everyone that I spoke to about this book warned me that it would become a favourite – and they were absolutely right. I've joined the Taylor Jenkins Reid train, and I'm very happy to be here.
The golden era
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo traces the life-long story of an actress committed to her shining stardom during the golden era of Hollywood. Asking an unknown journalist, Monique Grant, to her luxury apartment, Evelyn reveals that she is finally ready for a tell-all memoir to be written about her life – and tell all, she does.
I was absolutely captivated by the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood setting from the first moment we were offered a glimpse of it. The book shows how stardom is powered by greed, talent and fear – you can fall from grace just as quickly as you can rise to the top, and Evelyn is painfully aware of this from the get go. As time passed and the structure of the book became clear, I found myself watching as the characters literally unfolded with the decades. I could sense each of them maturing and learning with each page – especially Evelyn. With each decision, every gesture and vignette, she earned my respect. I felt like clapping my hands every time she made a conquest in her career, and I shed a tear whenever something tragic intervened with her plans and left her heartbroken.
The setting was so incredibly vibrant. The brightness of the characters was reflected in the romantic grandeur of Hollywood, and the connections linking them together through each Oscars ceremony and party became solid and golden. But the fear that came with Evelyn's fame made itself felt beneath the glittery surface, and I spent a lot of the book waiting for the fear to win.
Taylor Jenkins Reid's writing style is, without a doubt, one of the smoothest and most beautifully constructed I've ever read. Each sentence was sophisticated, deliberate, thoughtful and layered, but it was also smooth as butter and did all the work for me. I read most of it while very tired, in the middle of a reading slump, and actually finished it early on a hazy Sunday morning. You definitely do not have to have your best reading game on to read this book, but somehow it makes you feel like a professor with a monocle because it's just good.
One of my favourite elements of this book, though, despite the construction of the actual words themselves, was Reid's discussions on sexuality and gender. Spoiler alert – do not read on if you haven't read the book – but I especially loved that the book is called 'The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo', as if the main story is defined by Evelyn's marriages to men. Reid makes a point of showing us that, actually, the true loves of her life were her female partner, her daughter and herself. It was damn inspiring.
The subtle way that Taylor Jenkins Reid weaves this all together was brilliant. Evelyn clearly did not need to be defined by a man's standard, and her life did not need to be measured by her legal bindings to a man either. As you begin to understand Evelyn and her motives, you can see how her life was dedicated to her truer loves, not to her husbands.
This was one of my favourite books of 2021, and there's not a doubt in my mind that I will be picking up her others soon. I'm nervous though – I fell very deeply in love with the setting and the style of this one, so I'm worried the others won't measure up in my eyes. I'm sure that it's an unfounded fear though; I have heard nothing but good things about Malibu Rising and Daisy Jones & the Six, for instance. I can't wait to get my hands on them.
Thanks a bunch for reading with me,