REVIEW: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.” 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was everything I’d been wanting in a book. Lush. Visceral. Commanding. It demanded my attention from page one and I couldn’t put it down until I reached the end. Like all of the characters, I was also drawn into the intrigue of Evelyn Hugo.

“Evelyn always leaves you hoping you’ll get just a little bit more. And she always denies you.”

The story begins with Monique, our narrator. She’s working for a magazine, has just decided to divorce her husband, and is struggling with the feeling of wanting more out of life. That’s when her boss pulls Monique into her office and tells her that Evelyn Hugo, once a bombshell beauty and movie superstar, wants to do a tell-all interview for the first time ever. And Evelyn has chosen Monique for the job.

Monique jumps at the opportunity, seeing it as both a privilege and a way to jumpstart her stagnant writing career. But as Evelyn’s past crescendos into the present, Monique is left to reconcile her own history with the superstar’s. Told in dual narrative from both Monique’s and Evelyn’s perspectives, and peppered with news articles along the way, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo explores what it takes to craft a personality, the interconnectedness of human vulnerability, and the power love has over fear.

Evelyn was a complicated, cutthroat, loving woman. At times, I felt myself both frustrated and amazed by her. Her choices were often self-serving. Her ambition pushed everyone out of the way. She was always calculating the best way to rise to the top. It began as an ambition to make something of herself and unfurled into the need to be worth the attention. Even when I didn’t agree with Evelyn’s choices, I understood them. Her character arc was captivating and, at the end, she was a deeply relatable character. And she endured so, so much throughout her entire life. I loved seeing how she grew and changed, especially in regard to her values and relationships.

Speaking of relationships, she truly did have seven husbands. At first, I was doubtful that Reid could tell the tale of each husband and do them justice within the book’s 391 pages. That doubt was unfounded. Each husband played an important role in Evelyn’s life, good or bad. While I won’t comment on most of them, I do want to note that Harry Cameron and Robert Jamison were by far my favorites. Harry, as a pivotal character, was Evelyn’s best friend, her family, and her rock through wavering times. I absolutely adored the relationship and respect that they had with each other. Harry understood Evelyn like no one else and that was exactly what she needed at times. Robert Jamison was also a lovely character and seemed to bring a similar sense of placidity to Evelyn’s life later on, though to a lesser extent than Harry did.

But not a single husband lived up to the love that Evelyn had for Celia St. James.

“She always made sure the bad was outweighed by so much good. I…well, I didn’t do that for her. I made it fifty-fifty. Which is about the cruelest thing you can do to someone you love, give them just enough good to make them stick through a hell of a lot of bad.” 

Celia St. James was not my favorite character. She was charming, nuanced. But she was also selfish and temperamental. Of course, Evelyn was too, but where Evelyn was willing to change, Celia often was not. I found myself irritated by how quickly Celia was willing to dismiss or even degrade Evelyn’s sexuality. I also had a harder time connecting to her character than I did Evelyn’s. In a way, she felt less well-rounded. Celia’s character was often distanced from and unengaged with the narrative. However, she was still a vital character. The romance between Celia and Evelyn was heartbreaking and raw. She changed Evelyn more than any other character. I just wish we, as readers, could’ve gotten to know Celia a little better.

Overall, this was by far one of my favorite reads of 2020. I won’t forget it any time soon. The writing was immaculate. The romance was captivating. The characters were memorable. If you like historical fiction—or any sort of prose guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings—read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. If you’ve already read it, let me know your thoughts!

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