Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Like last week’s book pick, I chose to read this one after someone mentioned that it involved journalism. I thought it might be a good read to integrate into my journalism classes, at least in part. While that part of my hope fell short, it was a fun, quick read, even though the genre is not one I would typically read.

This review, in part, contains spoilers.

The story follows an aspiring journalist who is contacted seemingly randomly by famed Golden Age actress Evelyn Hugo, offering to tell her life story to the journalist. This makes no sense because the journalist, Monique, is unknown. It’s clear from the start that Evelyn has motives for choosing Monique, and I won’t spoil the reason—we find it out toward the very end of the novel.

The novel is a frame story in which we experience Monique arriving at Evelyn’s home and sitting down, asking questions, which frames the majority of the chapters, which are Evelyn telling her life’s tale. With some spoilers:

She succeeded as an actress at first because of her beautiful looks, though she had to white-wash her heritage (and name) in order to do so. Throughout the novel, she takes (no surprise) seven husbands, discovering in the process that she is actually in love with a woman. In an era when bisexual wasn’t even a consideration, she realizes that’s what she is—maybe. Or maybe she just loves the one woman.

Because she struggled through the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, she had to hide any lifestyle choices that would put her career at risk. This was frustrating and would perhaps be eye-opening for a reader, but the focus was on Evelyn and her own life rather than society as a whole.

What disappointed me was probably based on my own expectations. The newspaper articles that were interspersed with the chapters were more gossip columns than news stories—there were no quotes (even fictional ones) about or from the characters, only speculation in gossip-column style. And Monique didn’t really have to work for the interviews. It was clear Evelyn wanted her from the start, and it would be impossible for an unknown journalist to walk away from such an opportunity, even if she wanted to. So, everything came easily to her. The story was about Evelyn, not the journalist, even though the journalist grew and changed as a result of her time with Evelyn.

It was a fun read, though definitely for mature readers. Nothing explicit, but the subject matter was explicit at times. It would be okay for high school juniors or seniors, or grownups.

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