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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.
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.”
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
- Each husband’s section opens with an illustrative moniker (for example, “Poor Ernie Diaz,” “Goddamn Don Adler,” “Agreeable Robert Jamison”). Discuss the meaning and significance of some of these descriptions. How do they set the tone for the section that follows? Did you read these characterizations as coming from Evelyn, Monique, an omniscient narrator, or someone else?
- Of the seven husbands, who was your favorite, and why? Who surprised you the most?
- Monique notes that hearing Evelyn Hugo’s life story has inspired her to carry herself differently than she would have before. In what ways does Monique grow over the course of the novel? Discuss whether Evelyn also changes by the end of her time with Monique, and if so, what spurs this evolution.
- Monique says, “I have to ‘Evelyn Hugo’ Evelyn Hugo.” What does it mean to “Evelyn Hugo”? Can you think of a time when you might be tempted to “Evelyn Hugo”?
- Did you trust Evelyn to be a reliable narrator as you were reading? Why, or why not? Did your opinion on this change at all by the conclusion, and if so, why?
- What role do the news, tabloid, and blog articles interspersed throughout the book serve in the narrative? What, if anything, do we learn about Evelyn’s relationship to the outside world from them?
- At several points in the novel, Evelyn tells her story through the second person, “you.” How does this kind of narration affect the reading experience? Why do you think she chooses these memories to recount in this way?
- How do you think Evelyn’s understanding and awareness of sexuality were shaped by her relationship with Billy—the boy who works at the five-and-dime store? How does her sensibility evolve from this initial encounter? As she grows older, to what extent is Evelyn’s attitude toward sex is influenced by those around her?
- Evelyn uses the saying “all’s well that ends well” as part of her explanation for not regretting her actions. Do you think Evelyn truly believes this? Using examples from later in her life, discuss why or why not. How do you think this idea relates to the similar but more negatively associated phrase “the ends justify the means”?
- Evelyn offers some firm words of wisdom throughout her recounting of her life, such as “Be wary of men with something to prove”, “Never let anyone make you feel ordinary”, and “It is OK to grovel for something you really want”. What is your favorite piece of advice from Evelyn? Were there any assertions you strongly disagreed with?
- Several times, Evelyn mentions having cosmetic surgery. What was your reaction to this? How do these decisions jibe with the value system and ethical code that she seems to live by? Why do you think Evelyn continues to dye her hair at the end of her life?
- Recall the scenes in which Evelyn relays memories of conversing in Spanish after years without speaking it. Discuss the role language plays in her understanding of who she is. In what ways does her relationship to her Cuban identity parallel her experiences with her sexuality, and in what ways does it differ?
- If you could meet and interview one celebrity at the end of their life, who would it be? What would you ask them?
- Do you think Reid based the character Evelyn Hugo on a real-life movie star? If so, which one(s)?
- Monique Grant impresses both her boss and Evelyn with her article on the right-to-die movement. What are your thoughts on this controversial topic?
- An article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2949364/
- A book, recommended by Reid: Wild and Precious Life by Deborah Ziegler. This memoir chronicles a mother’s last year with her child, Brittany Maynard, who captured national attention with her vlog about deciding to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
- Taylor Jenkins Reid is the author of four other novels: One True Loves, Maybe in Another Life, After I Do, and Forever, Interrupted. Would you be interested in reading one of these after reading Evelyn Hugo?