Friday 4 August 2017

Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Product details:
Publisher:  Atria Books.
Hardcover, 400 pages.
Release date: June 13th 2017.
Rating: 4½  out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.

Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo married seven times – but which of her husbands was her one true love?

That’s the question rookie reporter Monique Grant is determined to ask when she’s invited to interview an ageing Evelyn at her plush apartment on the Upper East Side.  Why has notoriously private Evelyn decided to talk now after years of silence? And why has she chosen Monique for the job?  Nobody knows the answer to that apart from Evelyn herself– and she’s a lady who knows how to keep a secret.  With her own love life in ruins, recently separated Monique is determined to get the scoop on some vintage Hollywood scandal, and earn a promotion in the process. However, what Monique discovers during her conversations with Evelyn, is more shocking than she ever could have imagined.

I just adore Old Hollywood, don’t you? All that glamour, all those secrets, all that scandal and, unlike the mostly non-descript leading men of today, the leading men back then were so dashing, so handsome!  Of course, Old Hollywood wasn’t all fun and games.  Rather, it was a land of smoke and mirrors, where names and faces were routinely changed, humble backgrounds were re-written, relationships were often for publicity purposes, secrets were kept for a price and scandals were swept under the carpet by all-powerful studio fixers.  Speaking of which, just last night I watched a documentary on closeted actors in the Hollywood of the 1950’s, when to be openly gay was guaranteed career-ending.   The documentary is Tab Hunter Confidential. It’s on Netflix.

Anyway, back to Evelyn Hugo, born Evelyn Herrera in humble Hell’s Kitchen beginnings, who dyed her locks blonde in order to downplay her Cuban heritage, and traded her virtue for a one-way ticket to Hollywood.  I must say that Taylor Jenkins Reid does such a great job in constructing the character of Evelyn Hugo that this book reads like the best Hollywood biography ever written – even though its subject is entirely fictional. That said, Evelyn’s life and looks bear a resemblance to a number of Old Hollywood actresses. In her background and heritage, she resembles Rita Hayworth. She has the ruthless ambition and drive of Joan Crawford,  while she also shares the sultry good looks of Lauren Bacall, the curves of Marilyn Monroe and, of course, the multiple marriages of Elizabeth Taylor.

It’s all good fun watching as Evelyn rises to the top of her Hollywood game, leaving a trail of leading men in her wake.  It’s a whirlwind of dresses and parties and Oscar glamour, for sure. Then, there’s the price that has to be paid for that level of fame.  At a time when Hollywood actresses were not born, but made by moguls with money in mind, one wrong move could send your whole world crashing down. As Monique Grant is about to find out, Evelyn Hugo knows not only about the price of fame, she knows all about the price of secrets too.

Immersive, engaging and superbly well-written, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favourite reads of summer 2017 and a must-read for fans of Old Hollywood.  If you loved Ryan Murphy’s Feud earlier this year – then you will love this!

Hungry for even more Old Hollywood Scandal? Check out You Must Remember This, a podcast about the often-scandalous lives of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

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