Reviewed in India on 13 August 2019
The ‘Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ are…(drum roll!)…
But the real question is, who is her one true love?
This is currently a wildly popular book by Taylor Jenkins Reid, who has also written the following books–
The story spans two different timelines and is from two different points of view (POV). One is from the POV of Monique Grant, who is a reporter with a magazine, called ‘Vivant’. She’s going through a divorce that she’s finding difficult to deal with, and she’s trying to make something of herself in the field of journalism. She’s as surprised as anyone when she finds out that Evelyn Hugo, a huge star of yesteryears, wants her, and only her, to interview her for an exclusive tell-all about her life.
The book will make Monique millions of dollars, and she is suspicious of Evelyn’s motives. Why would she want her to do it? She’s afraid of what she might find out by the end. Will she discover some truth about Evelyn that will make her hate her?
The story is about Evelyn, who as a teenager, hates the small little town in which she lives, so she marries her first husband, Ernie, to get out of town and moves to Hollywood. A young producer from Sunset Studios named Harry Connor discovers her and she starts starring in movies. She goes after what she wants, she asks for the role she’s interested in and makes a sexual compromise to get it.
She divorces Ernie because she realizes that he doesn’t belong with her on her journey. From then on, the studio controls most of her life. They tell her that she should be seen more with the famous star Don Adler, and they start dating, and actually fall in love. They get married.
Evelyn guesses that Harry is gay, without him ever having to say it. Two months after marrying Don, he starts hitting her. She doesn’t leave him because she loves him, and the abuse continues. She realizes that it’s just because he feels entitled and jealous, and is a sore loser. He can’t bear that she’s rising to the top.
Evelyn stars with Celia St. James in a production of Little Women. At first, she’s jealous of her, but then they start growing closer. She finds out at a party that Celia is a lesbian, and she also catches Don cheating. She leaves him that night and goes to live with Celia, after they kiss for the first time.
Don divorces her and gives her a lot of money and the house, but convinces the studio to blackball her and loan her out to another studio, and also ban her from being nominated for an Academy Award. She and Celia are in a relationship, but they always are very discreet and come across as good friends, but there are still rumours about her and Celia being lesbians.
She attends a concert by singer Mick Riva, who is a huge fan, and she tricks him into marrying her in Vegas to take the attention off her and Celia. She needs to sleep with him to get him to marry her, and they get the marriage annulled immediately after. However, she gets pregnant and Celia gets mad at her and leaves her.
Harry, who is her best friend, takes her for an abortion. Celia and she don’t speak for the next 5 years. Evelyn marries her co-star Rex North to promote their upcoming film.
Celia also gets married to a football player named John Braverman, who is also a gay man. She is at the pinnacle of fame, basking in wealth and glamour. Evelyn remains married to Rex till he tells her that he is in love with another movie star, and she’s pregnant, so he wants a divorce. They concoct a story of how both of them are having affairs with other people. She marries Harry to corroborate her story.
Harry and Evelyn both want a family, and she has a girl named Connor. Celia and Evelyn move in together, and so do Harry and John, but to the outside world, they appear like two heterosexual couples.
Evelyn gets an opportunity to star with Don in a movie that’s directed by director Max Girard, who she has worked with for many years. It contains an intimate sex scene. She does it without speaking to Celia first, and when she finds out, she leaves her in a fit of rage. They don’t speak for many years after that.
John dies of a heart attack and Harry is devastated. Evelyn finally wins an Oscar. Max, her director tells her that he’s always loved her, and asks her to marry him. He knows that Harry is gay. Harry agrees to divorce her because he believes that she has a right to find love.
She marries Max when she’s 44, and he’s her 6th husband. She soon realizes that Max doesn’t love her. She is just a trophy wife to him. Celia and she have been corresponding with each other, and she goes to meet her. Max reads her letters to Celia in which she confesses her love for her and he is livid. They have a nasty fight and she tells him that she is leaving him, after being married to him for six years.
Celia reveals to her that she’s dying of respiratory disease. She tells her that she wants to spend the rest of her days with her in a quiet place. She’s expected to live for only another ten years. She asks Harry if they can all move to Europe, but he doesn’t agree. He reveals to her that he’s in love with someone and he wants Celia to marry him so that they can all be together.
Evelyn decides to discuss it with him the next day, but when she drives up the next morning, she sees a car crash outside his house. She realizes that it’s Harry in the driver’s seat and another man, who is already dead.
Evelyn takes Harry to the hospital, but he dies. Their daughter, Connor, devastated by the death of her story, starts dri1nking and doing drugs and being sexually promiscuous. It’s been 6 months since his death and Evelyn tell her that she is getting married to Robert, Celia’s brother, who will be a cover-up, and she also tells her that she is actually in love with Celia.
They all move to Spain and Connor bonds with Robert. They live happily till Connor goes back to the US to attend college. One night, Evelyn and Celia decide to get married in an intimate ceremony between the two of them in the privacy of their bedroom.
They are now in the 50s and live together for 6 years till Celia dies of respiratory failure at the age of 61. Evelyn stays married to Robert for 11 more years. During that time they donate a lot of money to charitable causes.
Connor joins the finance industry, but she hates her job. Robert dies too. Evelyn is left all alone at this time. She hires an assistant, Grace to take care of her affairs. Another tragedy that befalls her is that her daughter dies of breast cancer at the age of 39.
Evelyn wants Monique to write that she was wrong all along. She sacrificed so much, she cared about the wrong things. She had only ever wanted a family and nothing more, but she gives importance to all the wrong things.
She finally reveals to Monique that she is the daughter of Harry’s lover, a black man, who was found in the car crash. Monique had always believed that her father had been drunk driving when he died in a car accident. Evelyn also gives her a letter that she had found in Harry’s pocket the night he died.
The letter was written by her father to Harry in which he stated that he loved him, but he couldn’t leave his family for him because he loves them more than life itself. He also urged Harry to move to Spain or Europe and to live with his family as well.
Monique is sickened and disgusted and angry. She feels used and lied to, and she doesn’t want to look at Evelyn, but she finds herself going back for the photoshoot for ‘Vivant’. When she leaves Evelyn’s house that day she suspects that Evelyn is going to commit suicide because she admits to her that she has breast cancer and it’s only a matter of time before it gets the better of her.
Monique’s mom has come to visit her and she meets her at the airport. She asks her about her father what kind of a man he was and what kind of a marriage they had. Her mother said that he was her best friend, her soul mate. Monique doesn’t reveal to her what Evelyn has told her.
The next day, the newspaper states that Evelyn Hugo died at 79 of an accidental drug overdose. Monique publishes the introduction to her book in ‘Vivant’ magazine, where she reveals that her one true love was not one of her husbands.
I loved the story that was so evocative of old Hollywood and the glamour of the black and white movies. I immediately thought of Elizabeth Taylor and read an interview later where the author mentioned that she was indeed influenced by Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner.
I also loved the stark contrast between what we as ‘outsiders’ perceive of Hollywood stars or celebrities. We see the glitz, glamour, wealth and enviable lifestyles. But what if their lives are actually nothing like what they appear to be? And that’s probably more likely to be the truth than we believe.
There were certain things about the book that did not really sit well with me.
When Evelyn does an intimate sex scene with Don in Max Girard’s film and tells Celia, she has a really strong reaction to it. I really couldn’t understand why she felt that way. This was a woman who has been in Hollywood for almost all her life, and she knows that sometimes you have to do challenging roles.
And most importantly, it was all only acting, but she refuses to understand or accept it. She actually leaves Evelyn because of it. Evelyn tries to justify it by saying that she has always used her sexuality and sex to get what she wanted because she loved fame as much as she loved Celia, but that did not seem like a reasonable enough explanation to me.
It was all only acting, but she refuses to understand or accept it. She actually leaves Evelyn because of it. Evelyn tries to justify it by saying that she has always used her sexuality and sex to get what she wanted because she loved fame as much as she loved Celia, but that did not seem like a reasonable enough explanation to me.
In another part of the book, when Harry dies, Connor is devastated, but barely 6 months later, Evelyn tells her that she’s in love with Celia, and she was going to marry Roger, and they were all going to Spain. Connor says that she doesn’t care who her mother is in love with whom or who she is marrying. That is not the usual reaction of a child who was so close to her father and whose loss was so heart-wrenching. She would have been full of rage, indignant that her mother was moving on so fast after the death of her father.
During the time she’s married to Max Girard, Evelyn leaves to go and meet Celia. She returns unexpectedly, to find Max reading Celia and her letters. How did Max get hold of her letters? How would he even know of the existence of the letters, or where to find them?
It seemed a little cowardly of Evelyn to tell Monique to publish the book after her death. What difference would it have made if it had been published while she was alive? She had nothing to lose. She would have had the satisfaction of finally declaring her love in front of the whole world, something that she could never do while she was alive. She would probably have been hounded for a long time after that admission, but that was nothing that the formidable Evelyn Hugo couldn’t handle, right?
And Monique would have still made her money. Come to think of it, why did Evelyn not leave all of her money to Monique, or at least some of it, since there was nobody left alive who she could bequeath it to.
Another thing that irked me was Evelyn’s constant resistance to declaring the truth about her and Evelyn’s relationship. Throughout the book, she’s this focussed, practical, ballsy woman, except when it comes to their relationship. Her actions are not those of a woman who is hypocritical or apologetic. She is a fearless, determined woman with laser-sharp focus.
She knows exactly what she wants and is willing to do what it takes to get it. The only reasons she decides not to acknowledge her love for Celia is because she understands that it will destroy their careers and their lives, and probably get them imprisoned because those were the times in which they lived.
Surprisingly, it’s Celia who is always willing to come out and say that she loves Evelyn, and she’s in a relationship with her and living with her, but she’s always stopped by Evelyn. I just couldn’t reconcile to this fact. It seemed like such a departure from her actual nature.
Most of the time Celia just comes off as a petulant and sometimes immature woman. She pales in comparison to Evelyn’s larger-than-life persona, and It left me wondering what it was that Evelyn saw in her that inspired so much love and devotion in her?
On first reading the title, I immediately thought of Elizabeth Taylor, and I later read somewhere that the author had actually loosely based the character of Evelyn on her, as well as Ava Gardner-two formidable icons of Hollywood. It made me feel like I was reading something that was being narrated to me by someone who is a Hollywood insider, someone who knows how the industry works. It was like, ‘Whoa! What if this is actually close to what happens? What is if this is the truth, and not what the media feeds to us?’ Humans are a weird and insecure lot, but they’re still humans, they’re all still driven by ambition, love, greed, fear and a thirst for power. Stars and celebrities are no exceptions.
It must be so exhausting and nerve-wracking to be under constant scrutiny ALL THE TIME. It doesn’t seem like fun at all.
It just seems like such a tragic waste of life, that in the end, everyone is gone. All that she has been through has been for nothing. She loses every single person who she loved, including Celia and her daughter Connor. All her fame, power, wealth, mean nothing. She lived her entire life as a lie, she sacrificed her one true love and traded it for wealth and glamour.
All she has at the end of her life are her regrets.
Note: There are some references to the death of loved ones, sex with a minor, abortion, domestic violence, cheating, drunk driving, and homophobic slurs, so please be mindful of that.