Thursday, July 5, 2018

Review: THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rating: 5/5 stars

I have so much to say about this book, yet I also have no idea what to say. I think this is a masterpiece of literature, and I am immensely glad that I decided to read it.

My thoughts are all jumbled, but I really admired the portrait that Reid painted of what it was like to be a biracial, queer, sex symbol actress in the ’60s, of what it was like to be Evelyn Hugo. I felt like I really knew her throughout this story. We got to hear Evelyn tell her own story from her youth through her old age, adding in all the dirty bits and secrets about her life that she’s been keeping hidden from the world for decades. It felt realistic and so honest, and I could not stop listening to the audiobook because I just really wanted to know more about Evelyn Hugo’s life.

This story sounded a bit shallow to be at first, but it isn’t by any means. Evelyn Hugo really communicated a lot of emotions and concepts with the reader: what it’s like to be biracial in the ’60s, what it’s like to be queer in the ’60s, what it’s like to be a famous biracial and queer actress in the ’60s, how the media actually has no idea what the truth is and will tell you whatever story they want to sell you, how to fight for what you believe in, and why none of the fame and money really matters because family is the most important thing. Evelyn Hugo manipulates a lot of people to get what she wants. She plays her fans and her husbands and the reporters to construct the story she wants them to know in order to get more famous, to get a new role in a film, to make more money, or to save face. Evelyn Hugo knows that people only like the idea of her but don’t like the reality of who she is once they get to know her. And she uses this to her advantage. I feel like I would be mortified if I lived her life, yet she unashamedly stomps through life letting everyone know exactly who she is and that she’s not sorry for any of her actions. And somehow that made me really admire her. She’s someone who knows what she wants and is not afraid to go out there and get it. I wish I were more confident like that.

Even though I don’t know hardly anything about Marilyn Monroe, I kept thinking of her while reading this book. She and Evelyn Hugo were both highly famous, sex icon actresses in the mid-twentieth century (albeit one was real and one is fictional). I know people also compare Evelyn Hugo to Elizabeth Taylor because of the many husbands. I would be curious to know if Reid based her character off of either of these real actresses in any way.

I didn’t think I would love this book as much as I did. The more I sit and think about it after finishing it, the more I like it. I think this is one I will revisit in the future because I just loved the story and all the characters. My favorite character was Celia because she was just so sweet, and I also loved Harry, but there honestly weren’t any characters I disliked. Everyone had both redeeming qualities and vices, making them all seem very human; no one is completely good or completely bad but a mixture of the two. Each character developed and changed over the years, so someone I didn’t like at the start was different by the end and I couldn’t justify not liking them anymore. And many characters that I thought were just side characters there for no reason turned out to be some of the most dynamic and influential characters in the end (read: Celia).

As far as Monique, the interviewer, I loved how as Evelyn was telling her story, it directly impacted the decisions that Monique made day by day. Monique even makes the comment that had it not been for Evelyn, she wouldn’t have done this or said that, and I just loved seeing her grab life by the reigns and take control. And as far as the ending, I did not guess the connection between Evelyn and Monique. I had two theories, but neither seemed probable and I was hoping I was wrong anyway. Gladly, I was, and I was actually shocked to learn what the true connection was. I think it was very clever of Reid to not take a typical route but to write it how she did instead.

Reid’s writing ability really shone through in this story, in terms of both character development and plot, and I’d be interested to read more of her books in the future.

I would definitely recommend this book, but know that it is scandalous and probably would not be as enjoyable for more conservative audiences. I listened to the audiobook and I would highly recommend that as well. The voice actors were excellent, and it really aided the fact that Evelyn was telling her story in the book. I felt like I was directly listening to her instead of reading a transcript of the interview.

Overall, this is top-quality work.

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