The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a big, juicy read. Movie star Evelyn Hugo, famous in the Fifties and Sixties, decides to tell her life story to magazine writer Monique Grant. Monique is a relatively unknown reporter, but Evelyn insists that she be the one. As Evelyn’s story unfolds, Monique learns the connection that they share.
Reid’s fictional movie star shares traits with real-life actresses. Evelyn has almost as many husbands as Elizabeth Taylor. Her Cuban background calls to mind Rita Hayworth, whose father was Spanish. And her manipulation of the press could be any number of stars. Reid starts with what the public knows about Evelyn: although married several times, the love of her life was Harry Cameron, with whom she had a daughter. Her last husband was the brother of her acting rival, Celia St. James. Evelyn surprises Monique by turning those stories inside out. Harry was a homosexual; Evelyn was in love with Celia, a lesbian; she and Celia lived together while Harry and Celia’s gay husband did the same. That brief summary makes the story sound salacious, but Evelyn has the luxury of time with Monique to explain why she married each husband—escape, security, career—and how Celia was the love of her life.
Reid expertly captures the hothouse nature of Hollywood, where a vicious gossip columnist could destroy a career and a star was only as good as the grosses of her last film. I think it’s tricky to create an alternate Hollywood, with fictional actors and actresses in real films—Little Women and Anna Karenina are two in this tale—but Reid makes it work, and I think that’s through the ultimate originality of her story. Evelyn, her husbands, and others may be composites, but the story is fresh, and the end reveal is worth the wait.