Books & Bordeaux
Book Reviews, Discussion Guides, and Wine-Book Pairings
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Book Review: Exploring Labels, Love, and Female Ambition
When aging Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo wants to do her first interview in years, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime for any journalist. But Evelyn will only interview with one… Monique is a writer climbing ranks at a high-end fashion magazine. The editors are flummoxed when the mysterious Evelyn Hugo insists that Monique conduct the interview. With seven husbands and a decades-long career in Hollywood, the right interviewer could get career-making story out of Evelyn…and Monique’s superiors are not confident she’s equal to the task. Frankly, Monique is worried too. Evelyn’s charisma and gravitas are intimidating enough, but Monique is clueless as to why the star would request her. What we learn about Evelyn—and Monique—is uplifting and disheartening, heart-wrenching and conflicting. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo connects us to a not so distant past to demonstrate the value of every opportunity and the value of the authentic you.
Jump to Evelyn Hugo Discussion Questions
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid was our very first ZOOM book club meeting! And it worked! The best part about it was seeing the all the cats, dogs, children, and husbands that would pass through at random. Cats seem to feature prominently in ZOOM—whether it’s for love of the speaker or for the chaos of crossing the keyboard. If you ZOOM with your book club or any other group, one of you will need a Pro account, otherwise you’re limited to 40 minutes! I missed sharing the same wine and food together, but it was fun to see everyone’s individual selections.
There were several elements that made Evelyn Hugo a super-fun read. The story is punctuated with celebrity gossip news snippets, showing you the view from without to contrast with Evelyn’s personal account (un-spoiler, its always different!). From the get-go, you know that Evelyn is working with Monique for a specific reason, and you can’t wait to find out why. When Monique begins to grow as a person by learning from Evelyn’s example, the story gains another layer and even seems to break the fourth wall by subtly challenging the reader, Will you walk away from this story stronger, as well?
This book was a rare book club find because we all enjoyed it! We delighted in the uniqueness of each main characters’ narration—a feat not all authors are able to achieve. We loved the realness of the story: the adversity Evelyn faced and the compromises she made in order to succeed. I particularly appreciated a female character who had ambition and did not struggle with the morality of having ambition as a woman.
Wine Selection & Tasting
Shirley Temple. Super summery and refreshing! Evelyn drinks a shirley temple in the novel, and I thought I’d modernize it so Monique would like it too. I used white peach ginger bubly sparkling water, which gave it a subtle flavor boost with no added sugar. Just a few spoons of maraschino cherry juice, a couple of maraschino cherries, a super-cute paper straw, and your modernized shirley temple is ready!
In a manner both conscientious and unpretentious, Evelyn Hugo shows how labels given are limiting and labels chosen are freeing.
I know how it feels for people to assume things about you, to prescribe a label for you based on how you appear to them. I have spent my life trying to explain to people that while I look black, I am biracial. I have spent my life knowing the importance of allowing people to tell you who they are instead of reducing them to labels.
“She’s a lesbian, Evelyn.” Until that point, the sounds of the party going on around us had been muted but still distinct. But the minute Ruby said what she said, the minute I heard the word lesbian… I could only catch certain words, like girl and dyke and twisted.
“Do you think I’m a whore?” Harry pulled over to the side of the road and turned to me. “I think you’re brilliant. I think you’re tough. And I think the word whore is something ignorant people throw around when they have nothing else.” I listened to him and then turned my head to look out my window. “Isn’t it awfully convenient,” Harry added, “that when men make the rules, the one thing that’s looked down on the most is the one thing that would bear them the greatest threat? Imagine if every single woman on the planet wanted something in exchange when she gave up her body. You’d all be ruling the place.”
Throughout the book, Evelyn notes many of the social expectations placed on women in the 1960s—the ghosts of which still linger today. For example, the expectation that a woman will be sexy but never sexual.
That is the fastest way to ruin a woman’s reputation, after all—to imply that she has not adequately threaded the needle that is being sexually satisfying without ever appearing to desire sexual satisfaction.
When Evelyn teams up with French director Max Girard (also husband #6), they decide to make a sexually explicit scene that is shocking not only for its nudity: it shows Evelyn’s character taking pleasure from the act of sex. Evelyn did not conceive the idea, but she sees the power of the scene for women viewers:
I thought of how there might be other women out there scared of their own pleasure, of their own power. I thought of what it would mean to have just one woman go home to her husband and say, “Give me what he gave her.”
Jump forward to present-day where Evelyn Hugo would be pleased to find that female sexual empowerment is becoming more the norm. Take for example the growing movement to close the orgasm gap. The spicily-named orgasm gap is the discrepancy in the frequency of male and female orgasms during sex. While we’ve all heard jokes on this topic, the orgasm gap is not a colloquial assumption: a 2017 US study showed that heterosexual women are less likely to orgasm regularly (65% of respondents) compared to bisexual and homosexual women (66% and 86% respectively). And these numbers paled in comparison to male orgasm rates (95% heterosexual men, alongside 88% bisexual men and 89% gay men). Changing people’s individual and social perception of female empowerment over their sexuality is a long-term effort. Many women are working on behalf of this cause, including Emma Watson. In this interview, she notes how she wants to make feminism a more accessible topic:
“Feminism almost got hijacked a little bit by academics and by gender studies and by only being talked about by this specific group of people… I want to try to talk to people who might not encounter feminism and talk to them about feminism … I want to engage in the topic with people who wouldn’t normally.”
Emma Watson and bell hooks Talk Hermione, Beyoncé and Why Feminism Is for Everybody By Julie Zeilinger
Perhaps the part we liked most of all in Evelyn Hugo was Monique’s story:
…I’ve never thought of myself as a force to be reckoned with. Maybe I should start thinking of myself that way; maybe I deserve to.
My friends are likely the only people who made it through this whole post 😉 so I’d like to end on a super-gushy quote that makes me feel all the feels about my book club girls <3
It was around that time that I started to believe that friendships could be written in the stars. “If there are all different types of soul mates,” I told Harry one afternoon, when the two of us were sitting out on the patio with Connor, “then you are one of mine.”
Evelyn Hugo Discussion Questions
- Coming soon!