I’ve been trying to get back into reading this summer, and one of the first books I read during my reading renaissance was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This book has taken the world by storm, and I was lucky to find it sitting on the shelf at my local library.
The book is about the life of a fictional actress that went by the name of Evelyn Hugo, however, the narrative is constructed in a unique way. Evelyn wanted her story to be a tell-all in book format to show the world the real her behind the Hollywood curtain.
She turned to a young journalist named Monique Grant to write the story for her, but Monique was unsure of why Evelyn chose her of all people to write her book; which would bring her vast sums of money. Following the entire writing process, beginning of the story starts when Evelyn asks Monique to write her book, following along as Evelyn tells Monique her story, and ending when the book is finished.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
This is a wild ride of a story that exposes Hollywood’s faults and thus gives readers a taste of what life as a celebrity is like. The book very eye-opening in a way that no other book I have ever read has been, so I would definitely recommend it. However, the story does include domestic violence and mature topics, so it is best for older readers.
A thread running throughout Evelyn’s career was that a large part of her fame came from her being sexualized in film and the media. Additionally, there were several moments early on in her acting journey where she chose to use her body to get her the parts that otherwise never would have been given to her. This plot line highlighted how women in the spotlight are often highly sexualized in the media, and it also made me think of the #MeToo movement, which brought attention to the sexual harassment towards women taking place in all work environments, but focused mainly in Hollywood. This movement, coupled with Evelyn’s story, is a powerful reminder of how women have been and continue to be looked at for their bodies and not for their talents.
Another crux of Evelyn’s story was that she came from a Cuban family and grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York. In hopes of seeing her name in lights, she dropped her Cuban heritage completely, knowing that she would never be cast in a major picture if she was not viewed as white. The rejection of her heritage haunted her throughout her life, but she knew that she never would have realized the level of fame she did if she had not cut those ties. This rejection of one’s cultural background in order to “make it” in Hollywood brings light to the whitewashing that plagues the film and television industries today—we have improved in this area in the last few years, but many pieces of visual media still have all-white casts telling stories that beg for diversity.
*Caution—this section of the article contains light spoilers.
The Seven Husbands
And finally, the husbands. They are what make the book so intriguing—how can a person have so many loves in their lifetime? The short answer—they don’t. Or at least not in the case of Evelyn. None of her husbands were the love of her life; instead, each marriage was orchestrated to augment her fame, improve her image, or to promote a movie. One element of the book that I loved was that it included snippets of fictional tabloid articles that came out after major moments in her life, such as after a scandal or a marriage. These snippets helped me see the contrast between what the media portrays and what actually goes on behind the surface, which served as a harsh reality check.
The Reality of Hollywood
Far too often we see celebrity-related social media posts and magazine articles through rose-colored glasses, believing everything we see without a second thought. But in reality, much of the news we read about is carefully orchestrated by the celebrity themselves and their PR team in order to ensure that their audience views them in the exact light they want to be viewed in.
Therefore, whenever you see a post on Instagram about a celebrity’s “dramatic” break up or “enchanting” new love, always be skeptical and question how much of it’s true. We tend to forget that celebrities are people too; they are people with emotions, families, and personal lives. Humans are complex, and nothing is as cut-and-dry as it seems.
Throughout most of her life, Evelyn chose fame over true love and happiness, which brought up the question of whether receiving diluted love from the public or true love from a person was more important. This question is one that she battled with throughout the entire book, so you’ll have to read her story to form your own answer.
Like I said, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is an eye-opening tale that sucks you in and puts you in the shoes of a Hollywood star. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend giving it a read.
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