A really, really easy decision about what to pick for BotW this week, but I’m ashamed to say that my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had been sitting on my Kindle for more than 18 months before I finally got around to reading it. It was one of those occasions where I requested something from NetGalley, with eyes too big for my reading time and it got lost in the backlog. And the NetGalley backlog is huge. One of my aims for the year is to solve that. We’ll see if that happens, but certainly the attempt has turned up a real gem.
Evelyn Hugo was a huge star in her day, but these days she’s pretty much a recluse. So when Monique Grant is sent out to do an interview with her it’s a big deal. A massive deal. And Hugo would only talk to Monique – but why? Monique is a virtual unknown – a junior reporter at a magazine – and she’s as clueless as everyone else about why Hugo has picked her. And when Monique arrives to do the interview, Evelyn has a different proposal for her – she doesn’t want to give an interview, she wants Monique to write her biography – she wants to tell Monique the stories and secrets behind her career and her seven marriages. Monique’s marriage has just broken up and she’s looking to rebuild, so she takes the job. Soon she’s spending her days listening to Evelyn telling the story of her rise to stardom – from her childhood in poverty in New York to the top of the Hollywood tree. It’s no holds barred – the domestic abuse, the Hollywood catfighting, backbiting and machinations – and the truth about who was the love of Evelyn’s life. And Monique finds herself warming to Evelyn, even though the story she’s telling isn’t always pretty or nice and Evelyn doesn’t always come out of it in the best light. But still she wonders, why was she picked to be the one to tell it. But as Evelyn’s story goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a purpose to all of this – and somewhere Evelyn’s life is linked to Monique’s.
And I’m not prepared to say any more about the plot than that. I’ve checked the blurb and I don’t think I’ve given away too much beyond what’s there. And that’s because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is best discovered blind. I hadn’t checked goodreads or read any reviews when I went in, so I didn’t know any of the twists and turns that were ahead of me and I think if I had, it would have been a real shame. But that does mean it’s hard to explain how clever this novel is. It is a totally page-turning book – the sort of thing you could sit and read on a sun-lounger all day without being bored (if you can read slow enough) but it’s also a very smart look at the world we live in.
Evelyn is a Cuban-America and as she rises up through the Hollywood machine you see the challenges that she faces as a woman and as a Latina and to be herself. She’s constantly having to change, to tone-down or hide aspects of herself in order to be acceptable and accepted and successful. But it’s so well written that it’s only afterwards you realise how much social commentary is in there. It’s good and it’s very, very clever. I’ve also gone down a few Google and Wikipedia rabbit holes since finishing this, trying to work out which bits of Evelyn’s story are based on which real life Hollywood stars. I can’t tell you my conclusions though because it’ll give too much away. Sorry, not sorry.
My copy came from Netgalley an age ago, which means this is out in paperback now as well as on Kindle and Kobo. I’m hoping it should be relatively easy to find in an actual bookshop too. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book out shortly – which I mentioned in my anticipated books post (my excitement about this has only increased after reading this!) on New Year’s Day – so keep an eye out for that too!