Fair Warning: Sorry dear readers, but I’m going to have to pour out my heart while I write about my favorite book. The point is, there will be spoilers and other details that you might want to avoid should you plan to read this book after being intrigued and moved by this write-up (I hope that you will and also, ignore my self-applauding tone)
I’ll be honest about the fact that I cannot be categorized as an ‘avid’ reader or a serious and meticulous bibliophile or to simply say a ‘bookworm’. What I do boldly and proudly consider myself as, is a dedicated ‘binge-watcher’, a Tv-show buff, or a ‘Netflix-o-holic’. But if there is one book that came close to creating an ‘era’ in my life that revolved around it, it would be Reid’s 7 husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
Ironically, I finished this book in three days while I was traveling to Nepal by train and then a bus; but the effect this book had lasted like a dreamy bitter-sweet hangover for months, one which I was reluctant to sober-out of. As the title suggests, the novel is about a mysterious Evelyn Hugo and her seven marriages. It was published in 2017 but takes us back to the realm of retro Hollywood, the 50s and 60s to be precise.
The (shallow waters) Summary: The story starts with an amateur, struggling magazine editor, Monique Grant, who is summoned out of the blue by a retired, aged Hollywood legend, Evelyn Hugo, who wishes to share her life story, gossip, and secrets with Monique. As Monique curiously seizes the opportunity and bears witness to the unfolding of Evelyn’s scandalous yet morally conscious life, she gets deeply entangled in Evelyn’s tumultuous dilemmas. With each chapter, we see how Evelyn evolves in the industry from a Cuban-American nobody to a reincarnated and reimagined version of a Marilyn Munroe of sorts. We also traverse through her promiscuous love life, her affairs that sell like hotcakes, and her cryptically complex marriages. By the end, I found myself emotionally whiplashed and painfully satisfied with the perplexingly grey questions and secrets that had been hidden throughout the book, just like Monique.
What I absolutely enjoyed (the deep dive) :
SPOILER WARNING AGAIN! HERE COME THE BIG GUNS!
Celia St.James: What a uniquely impressive character the writer has sketched! Celia starts as a rival to the rising star that is Evelyn Hugo, threatening her, with her versatile and commendable acting skills, only to later become her close colleague and friend and then her passionate partner. Yes, that’s right. The one true love of Evelyn’s life is Celia, neither of her 7 husbands. Now if you look at the society in the 50s and 60s and then contrast Celia and Evelyn’s love story in that background, you will grapple to simply see them grapple to be together. Their journey is simply something one must read because the gravity and agony of Celia and Evelyn are something I cannot put into words. I began rooting for them as a die-hard fan after I read the scene where Evelyn kisses the Tv-screen, chipping her tooth, when Celia wins the award for best supporting actress. Such a heartful moment! It’s fascinating how their relationship develops. Another element I enjoyed is that Evelyn isn’t labeled a ‘lesbian’ or a ‘bisexual’ in most parts of the book. Her character has been given the liberty to choose whatever she feels she is. Another example of this sexually liberating permissiveness is seen in the movie ‘Call Me By Your Name’, wherein neither of the men is homosexual or bisexual, yet they fall for each other. That sense of exclusiveness is what adds more flavor and intensity to the chemistry of two same-gendered people. The gaze this book uses to address female sexuality, may it be the earthly pleasures that the characters engage in or the descriptions of Evelyn’s sexualized roles and physique, is somehow anti-vulgar and addictive. The way Evelyn and Celia grow to genuinely care and sacrifice for each other and how destiny always acts against them is truly a heartbreaking story.
I would love to see Anya Taylor-Joy play Celia St.James (with her hair painted and all)
2. Harry Cameron: After Celia, I think Harry was the closest thing Eveyn had to a family. Out of the terrible six creatures she married, Harry, her close colleague, friend and closeted husband was the best human being in the book, without question. Harry and Celia’s relationship felt like a private magical recipe to prepare an elixir. The span in their lives when Harry, Evelyn (and their daughter), Celia and John (Harry’s lover) live together playing two straight couples for the world but living two wholesome queer couples for themselves is a double-match made in heaven’s moment. Harry always stands by Evelyn and supports her throughout the book. He acts as the foundation to her success and nobody wouldn’t want a friend like him. It broke my heart when John died and then Harry died.
3. Why Monique?: The one question that is answered towards the end is ‘Why did Evelyn specifically ask for Monique (a woman of color) to write her biographical?’ Such types of mysteries tend to have flop answers in most books I’ve read, but not here. We learn from Evelyn that she knew Monique’s father, (a gay, black man) who was Harry’s driver when his accident happened. He was defamed to be a drunk driver after his death but the truth is that he was in the passenger’s seat when the crash happened. Evelyn, who used her financial status to conceal Harry’s involvement in the accident, and left Monique’s father in the problematic situation to take the hit, is guilty of the pain and trauma she caused to Monique and her mother. Monique’s arc with her troubled marriage, her mother, and Evelyn is at its peak towards the end. Evelyn tells Monique that though her father loved another man, he also promised to never leave his wife and daughter because he equally loved them as well. Despite their grievances, Monique’s parents always stuck together. Monique connects the dots as she recollects how her mother had always told her, that she and her father loved each other but had no spice or attraction in their marriage. The underlining message was that despite couples (namely Harry and Evelyn and Monique’s parents) being gay, they managed to satisfy the emotional needs of their partners, sharing warmth and tenderness in each other’s lives and cherishing a happy marriage. The way Reid spreads these sheets of pure humanity onto her characters is too good to be true.
4. The commercials: A very impressive literary trick that I aspire to use one day is the commercial and news column that we see after or before the chapters. They are written in the third person and allow the readers to interpret Evelyn from the world’s perspective. It’s interesting to see how media molds and interprets the life decisions of celebrities so conveniently the way they desire and how strikingly different the reality could be. I enjoyed the creative headlines also because it’s a really smart way to supply essential information to readers instead of slipping it into long, tedious conversations or descriptive paragraphs.
5. The Green-dress aesthetic and consistency throughout the novel: The signature of Evelyn Hugo’s flamboyant personality is her iconic green dress. Even the cover for my copy had a faceless woman in this green dress. Somehow this prop has been used impeccably and builds vivid, unshakable imagery that gives so much realism and coherence to Evelyn. Her brazen dressing style, her speech style, her pattered actions, and their predictably riveting consequences are what makes the character so real and not dislikable and vague. The flow of the novel is marvelously steady. It slows down where we need to recuperate from shocking changes and paces up where we feel we might begin dozing (which I never did by the way). I can very much imagine how a young Evelyn might have been and how she grew up to be the old sardonic and sharp-tongued woman who lost everyone. I even had a casting in mind. I feel Diana Rigg (may she rest in peace) would have played a great older Evelyn and Anya Taylor Joy would have made the perfect younger Celia with James McAvoy as Harry.
Conclusion: I tried so hard really to find something I didn’t appreciate in the book but I failed. Maybe some extracts towards the end were unnecessary and Evelyn’s marriage to Max Girard didn’t age as well as I’d thought it would. But apart from that, I enjoyed reading every word of this novel and I highly recommend it. It’s beautiful how gently the themes of LGBTQ+ issues, racism and humanitarianism have been incorporated in the alluing world of Hollywood so impressively. If you’re looking for a moderately easy read that has glamour, drama, moral ambiguity, mystery, and romance, then I’d say this is your perfect read. Everything is just right on point and in the perfect quantity in this book; yes, even the husbands.