Books about romance, old Hollywood and movie stars don’t usually attract me, but after reading a wonderful novel called Beautiful Ruins (review here) earlier this year, I decided I needed to be more open to recommendations from outside my usual genres. I saw a lot of people in the Bookstagram community comparing The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo to Beautiful Ruins, and so I added myself to the library waitlist and decided to give it a try.
Taking place between 1950 and present day, Evelyn Hugo, which we’ll call it for short, tells the story of the beautiful titular movie star who, throughout her long and complicated career - and seven marriages - hides a secret that could destroy her. In the twilight of her life she enlists a 35-year-old journalist to tell her story, and finally admits to the things she’s been hiding. Behind the gorgeous veneer she has shown the public for so long, Hugo is a complex and troubled woman – one who had to lie and cheat and bargain to get what she wanted. The further I got into the novel, the harder it was to decide whether or not I liked Evelyn, and whether my confusion about her proved the ultimate point of the novel: being a women, especially one in the spotlight, is a game that can’t be won. There will always be someone unhappy with your choices and actions, and you have to decide if it is worth trying to please them.
Evelyn Hugo is definitely a likeable novel: it’s easy to read and offers a glimpse into the world of fame and wealth available only to a certain class of people. Hugo’s world feels exclusive, but also judgmental and frightening and overwhelming. Reid has crafted it perfectly, deftly highlighting the hardships women like Evelyn Hugo face in dealing with media and men. There are moments when it definitely feels like Reid is overemphasizing the sexism of Hollywood, adding dialogue for characters to blatantly state how trying it is to be a woman rather than letting situations and experiences speak for themselves, but for the most part it feels authentic and accurate.
The book does have its shortcomings. Being a journalist myself, I found the reporter in the story to be fairly irritating. She never seemed to be recording her interviews with Evelyn, and she made several remarks journalists simply shouldn’t make. I’m probably being a bit picky, but I didn’t find her to be a likeable character.
I also found some of the dialogue to be a bit unbelievable. At times it didn’t feel natural and authentic, and I struggled to imagine anyone I know using the kind of language or highly refined speech as the characters in the story. It wasn’t detrimental to the novel, but it did take away from the reading experience for me.
Overall, this book offers a pleasant reading experience. It’s highly entertaining and has more depth to it than you might initially think.
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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter