The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: An empowering story for women of every age, and a gripping exploration of what it means to love - book review -

From her poverty-stricken roots in Cuba and a childhood in New York City’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ through to the glamour of Hollywood stardom, life has been a classic rags-to-riches story for Evelyn Hugo.

Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 12:06 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 12:07 pm
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

From her poverty-stricken roots in Cuba and a childhood in New York City’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ through to the glamour of Hollywood stardom, life has been a classic rags-to-riches story for Evelyn Hugo.

But now aged 79, and with seven husbands along the way, the legendary film actress is ready to play her last card… and reveal the bombshell secret which she has held close to her heart for many decades.

If you are expecting a regulation glitzy, kiss-and-tell romance, then think again because Taylor Jenkins Reid – acclaimed author of the fantastically entertaining Daisy Jones & the Six which charted the ups and downs of a Seventies rock band – delivers a beautiful, stunning, heartbreaking novel with a twist that will leave readers shedding more than a few tears.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

From first page to last, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a captivating journey… there is drama, ruthless ambition, lost love and scandal aplenty, but also long-held secrets that the public could never have imagined, and a mesmerising Tinseltown tale with haunting echoes of names like Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Marilyn Monroe.

Ageing and reclusive movie icon and Sixties ‘It Girl’ Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life, but when she chooses unknown glossy magazine reporter, 35-year-old Monique Grant, for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her and why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and at work, she’s sick of being ‘the lowest one on the totem pole.’ Regardless of why Evelyn Hugo, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious Manhattan apartment, Monique listens awestruck as the actress tells her story. Born Evelyn Herrera in 1938, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, her mother died when she was only eleven and she grew up in the notorious Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York City.

But Evelyn’s mother had been a chorus girl off Broadway and by the time Evelyn was thirteen, she possessed a stunning beauty which turned men’s heads and a burning desire to find a life and fame in Hollywood, far away from her abusive father.

Recognising from an early age ‘what I do to these poor boys… here is my value, my power,’ Evelyn made her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s, dyed her hair blonde, changed her name, and used a succession of husbands to climb the ladder to the very pinnacle of showbusiness.

Slowly but surely, Evelyn reveals a tale of boundless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love, and Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star. But as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways…

There is an almost elegiac quality to Reid’s writing as she unspools the riveting life and times of the enigmatic Evelyn, a true star player whose feisty fighting spirit – which transported her from poverty to untold wealth – masks the frailties and regrets that so often beset those who find fame and fortune in Hollywood.

This was an era when sexism, misogyny and racial prejudice were an accepted part of the big bucks movie industry but badass, wise-talking Evelyn knows how to play the men at their own game, trading her virginity to hitch a ride to Los Angeles, using a succession of husbands to further her career, and all the while endlessly battling to pitch herself at the top of the billing.

But Evelyn is also very human… her desire for ‘family’ was always one of her hidden motivators, and the one, secret but forbidden person who truly captured her heart became, in the end, ‘the only thing on this planet worth worshipping.’

A fascinating portrait of the cult of celebrity, an empowering story for women of every age, and a gripping exploration of what it means to love, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is as surprising as it is utterly captivating.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)