Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I broke a cardinal rule with this book: I judged it by its cover. And I’m here now, hat in hand, to tell you just how wrong I was. Monique Grant is an aspiring writer who finds herself at the cusp of a breakthrough when Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo personally requests her for an interview. But Evelyn’s intentions come into question as Monique learns more about the actress’ story, one that she has never told before. Powerful and thought-provoking, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo conflates the glamorous and mesmerizing backdrop of Hollywood with its dark and sordid undertones and within this microcosm, constructs a striking commentary on the cost of power, fame, and identity.
Where do I even begin? This book really has it all. Evelyn Hugo herself is a beautifully complex character – unapologetic, ambitious, and self-aware. I was drawn to her drive and unflinchingly honest dialogue in reflection of her need for self-preservation. While the title of the book indicates an unraveling of a series of scandalous marriages, Reid makes Evelyn’s story about so much more than her many lovers. Enveloped within the mystery of Evelyn’s past is a nuanced discussion around sexism, classism, racism, ageism, LGBTQ+ rights, and the internal and external pressures around conforming to societal norms. Evelyn is uniquely suited for this intent as readers watch her subvert traditional roles and leverage her perceived weaknesses – sexuality and femininity – to launch herself into stardom. The use of mixed media, primarily newspaper clippings and letters, adds another layer to the storytelling, allowing Reid to play with distance and intimacy in her exploration of perception versus identity.
My one criticism of the book would be the emphasis on saying that Evelyn is a complex character – Monique is continually pondering Evelyn’s complexity and there are references to this throughout the novel. It’s a classic, “show, don’t tell”. Reid actually does a wonderful job of showcasing Evelyn’s dynamic nature and disposition so every time it was addressed explicitly in text, it felt redundant and forced.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an easy yet impactful read that I would recommend to anyone interested in mystery, suspense, and romance. That being said, I truly believe there is something in this book for everybody. There are some books that just make you feel more in tune with your humanity and more connected to those around you, and this book will do just that.