WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
“It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.”
After finishing up Becky Albertalli’s Leah on the Offbeat, I think I subconsciously sighed, smiled, and thought, “Well, that was nice. That should tide me over until the next really good book with bisexual main characters comes along.”
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.
Coming across The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was striking the proverbial iron when it was hot. As with Leah, queer representation abounds in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, with fantastic, deeply sympathetic characterization. However, unlike Leah, Evelyn Hugo has a darker, more adult tone, focusing on the balance between ambition and love.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo begins with Monique Grant, a green journalist working for a New York magazine. When Monique is chosen by aging Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo to write her biography, everyone is baffled. As the two begin working together, Evelyn shares her tale of rising from obscurity, clawing her way to the top of the Hollywood elite, and – as evinced by the title – her tumultuous track record of seven marriages along the way.
My only misgiving about reading this book was the story-within-a-story format, which I’ve generally found to be hit or miss. But Taylor Jenkins Reid crafts a compelling narrative that sucks the reader into the scandalous thrill ride that is Evelyn’s story and offers the occasional reprieve with Monique. This balance between the two narratives makes for perfect pacing, never allowing the reader to grow bored.
Reid is also excellent at characterization. Evelyn is a well-rounded character, audacious and flawed. From the beginning she is determined to impress, doing whatever she deems necessary to gain a foothold in Hollywood. She is uncompromising and occasionally cruel in getting what she wants, but she is also fiercely protective of the people she loves. Joined by Evelyn is a cast of other multifaceted characters, showcasing wonderful qualities and deep faults in turn. Celia St. James is loving but insecure and judgmental. Harry Cameron is kind and supportive, but so deeply vulnerable he neglects his own safety. No character among the lot is depicted as a perfect saint or irredeemable sinner. Even the worst of Evelyn’s seven husbands have their moments of humanity.
Lastly, in a setting rife with Hollywood sexism and straight male privilege, it was a relief to see LGBTQ+ main characters with a hearty side of feminism. Evelyn makes her bisexuality clear to many characters in no uncertain terms, regardless of whether they believed her gay or straight. Queer relationships are depicted with just as much validity as a heterosexual one: complicated, compromising, and ultimately positive. And whether it be in an exposing role onscreen or by holding agency over her body – for better or for worse – Evelyn takes her fate into her own hands, controlling her life in a time and industry where women were expected to be meek and pure.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an engrossing read from the first page to the last. Those looking for LGTBQ+ characters, Hollywood drama, and ruthless leading ladies need look no further.