I’ve been intrigued by this book for a while without actually knowing what it was really about, except that it had queer themes (and 7 husbands). It went off Scribd before I could get to it, but it’s back now so I jumped right on it the moment I noticed it.
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon 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 is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
I don’t know what I expected from this book. First off, I’ve been hearing about it for so long I don’t even think I remembered the time period it was set in, and I thought it was a gothic novel of some kind? It’s not. But I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Evelyn is not a likeable character, in a lot of ways, but she knows her flaws and you do root for her. It’s at the same time an exploration of the commodification of women’s bodies and the things you have to do for success (especially in the 50s and 60s) when you’re only seen as “a nice pair of tits”. And at the same time it’s also a love story between Evelyn and [redacted] that I really cared about.
It also delves into AIDS and Stonewall a little bit, and other political matters for queer people at the time. It was good to see, albeit in fiction, how the events could have felt like for the people not directly involved.
I also loved the whole story-in-a-story business, and Monique’s character especially. I think it gave Evelyn’s narrative the context and distance it needed by asking her some tough questions, and showing her compassion where she had none for herself.
This was going to be a 4-star book, I think – not a true reason for the missing star, it just didn’t hit THAT place for me. And then the last twist or two happened and it just really blew my mind. And the very ending, which I sort of expected, made me tear up and that sealed it for me.
cw: historical homophobia, biphobia, domestic violence, death, cancer, alcoholism
Barnes & Noble | Bookshop UK (affiliate link) | Portal Bookshop | Kenny’s | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)