I have to admit that I chose to read this novel almost entirely because of how entranced I was by both the title and the cover. The idea that anyone could have seven husbands seemed foreign to me, at least until I encountered the character of Evelyn Hugo.
The story starts not with Evelyn, but with Monique Grant, a writer working at the major publication Viviant. If you’ve never heard of it, that is fine, because said magazine is, as far as I know, entirely made up. Never outside of a fantasy novel have I seen worldbuilding as intense as is shown in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Prepare to wipe all the movies and actors and producers that you remember from the history of Hollywood away for this vivid reimagining of what the world would be like if we had a whole new set of stars. Some things are the same – the Academy Awards exist, but with all new recipients; Time Warner and Paramount are name dropped, but they operate in the background. References are made to the Stonewall Riots and the Civil Rights movement, and while they do inform the story, they are not fully engaged with.
The biggest change is the title character herself, Evelyn Hugo. The novel centers around the idea that Evelyn wants her story told in a biography, and she wants Monique to write it. Monique and Evelyn’s conversations, and Monique’s life outside of the time she spends at Evelyn’s apartment, act as a frame for Evelyn’s story in the sense that most of the chapters are flashbacks to Evelyn’s past, told from her first-person perspective. Interspersed are short articles from whichever era Evelyn is describing, that show events from the perspective of the press. The book is divided into sections by which husband she was with at the time, each accompanied by an adjective that succinctly describes his presence in her life. Every few chapters the narration will cut back to Monique’s first person perspective as she ponders over the information that Evelyn has given her, which is equal with what is described in the chapters from Evelyn’s perspective.
This all contributes to my key takeaway from this novel, which is that the entire book is beautiful crafted. I gradually got more and more entranced by Evelyn and Monique, who both have incredible and ultimately intersecting stories. There is just the right amount of foreshadowing that made me curious and kept me convinced that I knew what was going on right up until the big reveal, upon which my theory was proven wrong but the story still sustained itself, just in a way that I never could have imagined. I can confidently say that I have never been so thoroughly shocked about a reveal, including all the Doctor Who episodes I have watched, which have some pretty intense plot twists. That said, independent of the absolutely stunning reveal, the novel absolutely holds itself up as a well written and compelling work of fiction.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo also contains a healthy amount of diversity and LGBTQIA+ representation. One of the smaller but no less important themes examined by the text is the fact that Evelyn Hugo was born Evelyn Herrera, a Cuban-American woman who shed her identity in order that she may become famous and be what the public wanted from her. Many of the characters in the book are either gay or bisexual, and one aspect of the text that makes me particularly happy is that the struggle against bi erasure gets a significant amount of page time. This was not something that I expected coming in to the text, so when I realized that there was so much queer representation I was pleasantly surprised.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is not exactly a happy book, but it is not a sad one either. The full shape of a life lived is exactly what I needed when confronting my own personal loss, and so I’d also recommend it to those who are grieving in the same or similar manner that I am. That said, as a consequence of reading this book I have an uneven tan line from my last beach day, so for those of you looking for a summer read, full of intrigue and drama, this is absolutely a book for you as well.