Tuesday, 9 April 2019

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

When Vivant gets the call from Evelyn Hugo, they scramble for an exclusive from the famous yet elusive movie star, now at the end of her life. But Evelyn will only speak to one person, Monique. She wants the reporter to write her life story, warts and all, and to publish it after her death.

Sometimes divorce isn’t an earth-shattering loss. Sometimes it’s just two people waking up out of a fog.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is partly inspired by Elizabeth Taylor's seven husbands as well as other starlets from the golden age of Hollywood. This is a sweeping story from 1950's Hell's Kitchen to present day New York via the unforgiving environment of Hollywood.

A Cuban immigrant, the fourteen-year-old Evelyn dreams of fame. She soon seduces her neighbour (husband one) for a ticket to Hollywood, where she learns to use her body to get what she wants. The story follows her career and her marriages up to the present day. She's abrasive and ambitious. I would say she's an unlikeable character but I liked her unlikeableness. It's who she is and she redeems herself through her love for her makeshift family.

I would have liked a bit more historical detail on the movie side, but it focuses mostly on the suffocating attitudes towards women and LGBT people and the double standards when it came to male and female actors. Evelyn must present a perfect impression to the tabloids and her marriages are often calculated to further her career.

Don't ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.

For Evelyn is bisexual and her one true love wasn't any of her husbands, but a fellow actress. The two must hide their affections or risk being outed from Hollywood, or worse. They can't even hold hands in public. It's really a heartbreaking story of a love that was not allowed to blossom, of decisions made purely to protect their secret and deflect prying eyes. It soon becomes clear why Evelyn had so many husbands.

There are extracts of the tabloid news throughout, showing the differences between reality and what was reported. Often wildly different, but often exactly the narrative Evelyn was aiming for.

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.

Evelyn's story is framed by that of Monique, who is considering her own divorce. She allows Evelyn to reflect on her life and add the occasional bit of judgement. Monique's decisions come to be shaped by the lessons she learns from Evelyn's life. I could have done without the big reveal of the connection between her and Evelyn, I don't think it was really needed. It's Evelyn's story after all.

Listening Notes

It's a well-produced audiobook with three very well-suited narrators. Robin Miles reads Monique, who comes across as reliable and earnest. Alma Cuervo reads Evelyn, adding a cynical tone, and Julia Whelan reads the extracts of tabloid news in a very Hollywood-reporter style voice.

ATY: 34. A book with a person's name in the title

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Book Source: Purchased

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