WRITTEN BY SNIGDHA DHAMEJA
It seems so funny to me, in retrospection, that I bought this book to end my reading slump, as a sort of warm-up before a more critical and thoughtful read. Never would I have thought that I would flip page over page, chapter after chapter, tantalised by the secrets and scandals it uncovers at a rapacious pace. Mark my words, Evelyn Hugo herself drew me behind the moth-eaten curtains of show business, and winked when she pushed me into a rabbit-hole of murmured secrets, unsavoury rumours, and the tales of the seven marriages that spanned across her illustrious lifetime.
The book follows Evelyn Hugo, a Cuban-American armed with looks that made half the world turn, and a ferocious passion that led her to be the best actress in Hollywood. She narrates the events of her life to Monique Grant, a rising magazine reporter at Vivant. But as they meet, and as they unfurl Hugo’s own lifetime together, they find themselves in the midst of the harrowing secret that involves the both of them.
Taylor Jenkins Reid delivers a master-stroke of a plot; one that actively shocks, awes and delights even the most stubborn of readers. The story is easy and simple enough to follow, yet has intricacies and interconnections that are most cleverly thought out. The book forces you to initially believe that it is the husbands who form the core of Evelyn’s life, with the framing of the title, and the clear divisions in the book whenever she remarries. Yet, Hugo remains a near femme fatale, with most of the seven marriages having some ulterior motive behind them. The husbands establish a clear timeline, nothing else. The truly interesting events unfold around Evelyn and the person with whom she establishes a ‘forbidden’ romance.
Evelyn Hugo’s characterization is flawless; the story displays every nuance and complexity of her personality. The same cannot be said about the other characters, especially Monique Grant, the reporter who interviews Hugo and also has a large role to play in the book. While the book clearly is about Hugo, some additional reflection on Grant would have made the story far richer and more meaningful, especially when the stories of both intertwine towards the end.
The book highlighted the intersectionality between nationality, race, and gender: Evelyn is Cuban, while Monique is biracial. While the book did show how Hugo reflected on how she whitewashed herself to fit Hollywood standards, very little discussion of her culture occurs throughout the rest of the book. A singular moment stood out when she thought of her own ‘Cuban-ness’, of how she changed her name from Herrera to Hugo, in hopes of becoming a Hollywood star. Apart from that moment, she holds no regret, no nostalgia for the culture she was brought up in, almost making it seem as if it had no permanent impact on her identity. For Monique too, there is a single moment of introspection. That’s all.
Having two people of colour as the main characters in this book was refreshing to see, but the lack of deep discussion on race and identity made the book lose dimensionality. It’s impossible that both these women aligned perfectly in society, never for a second doubting who they were, and where they came from. It would have been fascinating to see how both Evelyn and Monique possessed entirely different cultural identities, yet how the female struggle in society persists across marginalised minorities and among people of colour.
‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ is a bold book, even though it doesn’t bring anything new or revolutionary to the forefront of modern literature. It possesses a solid plot, a complicated and alluring protagonist, with a slightly rushed ending. The book regales you with the story of a starlet’s rise to fame, and the colourful life she led in Old Hollywood, described in all its vivid and shocking glory.