Thursday 10 October 2019

#CBR11 Book 72: "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Page count: 400 pages
Audio book length: 12 hrs 10 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Earlier this year, Taylor Jenkins Reid published Daisy Jones and the Six, which has generally been very well received critically and keeps popping up on "Must read" lists. In several review of that book, I saw this, Jenkins Reid's previous release, from 2017, highly recommended. Several people who were so-so on Daisy Jones and the Six claimed to prefer The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and as movie stars seemed more intriguing to me than rock stars, I decided to give it a try.

There are multiple narratives in this book.There's the framing story of magazine journalist Monique Grant who is pretty much hand selected by legendary movie star Evelyn Hugo to come interview her and write her life's story, despite not having written much of worth previously. Neither Monique nor her editor understands entirely why Ms. Hugo is so adamant she will only speak to Monique. Then there's obviously the long and intricate story of Evelyn's life, broken up occasionally by glimpses into Monique's life outside of the interviews.

Living alone and heartbroken, after her husband left her to move to another city, Monique doesn't really feel that she's living her best life. Acclaimed and aging movie star Evelyn Hugo is donating some of her most famous gowns to a cancer charity, and the magazine Monique works for would like an interview and an accompanying photo shoot. Ms. Hugo refuses to speak to anyone but Monique (for reasons no one, least of all Monique herself can understand). It also turns out that she has no intention of posing for pictures or being portrayed in an interview. She wants to give Monique the exclusive rights to her life's story, to be sold to the highest bidder with Monique enjoying the subsequent profits. The catch - Monique can't publish the book until Ms Hugo is dead, and if she refuses the job, then Evelyn's long and juicy life's story will remain untold.

Monique realises that she may end up fired if she takes the job, and it could be years before she's allowed to publish the book, yet she doesn't feel she can say no either. So she keeps making excuses to her editor and comes daily to listen to Evelyn recount her biography.

While currently widowed, Evelyn Hugo famously had seven husbands during her long life, and both she and Monique knows that this is one of the many things the reading public will want to know about. Who exactly was the love of Evelyn's life? How did she go from being a poor young girl in Hell's Kitchen to becoming an award winning and critically acclaimed international movie star, with a career spanning about half a century.

Evelyn is clearly a fascinating and deeply driven individual, who has used every resource available to her to achieve stardom. More than once, she trades sexual favours for advancement. She plays on her stunning looks and bombshell body, yet clearly possesses a razor sharp mind and frequently uses the preconceptions people and the movie industry have about her to become a star and further her career. Some of her marriages were made from genuine affection, others were highly practical affairs. Some lasted years, some mere days. Yet her winding narrative contains several secrets that ensure that the book that Monique has the potential to write will be an instant bestseller.

The mystery at the heart of the book, which isn't answered until the very last part of the book, is exactly what the connection between Evelyn Hugo and Monique Grant is, and why Evelyn was adamant that she would only tell her story to this particular younger woman. By the time it was revealed, I wasn't all that surprised, or that I cared all that much about the answer.

While I liked this book quite a lot more than Daisy Jones and the Six (films and the movie industry was always going to be more my wheelhouse than the music business), there is no denying that the sections of the book with Monique were a lot less interesting to me than the sections about Evelyn and I kept speeding up the audio book to get through them faster. I simply didn't care why she broke up with her husband or whether they'd get back together, nor was I particularly worried about her career. Evelyn, while not necessarily "nice", had a long, complicated and fascinating life and was infinitely more enjoyable to me.

Judging a book by its cover: There are two covers for this novel, both featuring what I'm assuming is Evelyn in her signature green. I much prefer this version of the cover, with Evelyn lying down, only her lips and a tiny bit of her hair showing. The one where she stands up is more traditional and not as evocative, in my opinion. This cover is sexier, and for a book that involves so many details about a star's love life, that seems appropriate.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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