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

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid book summary review and key ideas.

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid


From Taylor Jenkins Reid, “a genius when it comes to stories about life and love” (Redbook), comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’ relentless rise to the top – the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

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 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 jump-start 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 – 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. 

Written with Reid’s signature talent for “creating complex, likable characters” (Real Simple), 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.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I believe I saw this book recommended by a friend of mine and fellow avid book reader. I’m always excited by recommendations from my friends because recommended books are almost always really good. I have no clue what this book is about but it has a lot of good ratings so I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

Key notes:

  • Evelyn was auctioning off several of her famous gowns for breast cancer awareness
    • She is a famous actress and a fashion icon
    • This charity is most likely spurred by her daughter dying from breast cancer
  • Evelyn and her team chose a relatively unknown yet talented writer Monique grant to cover her story
  • She heard that charisma is charm that inspires devotion
  • Evelyn proposed that Monique write her life story and publish it when she’s dead
  • Evelyn told her that she doesn’t regret anything she’s done in the past and lives in the moment because she doesn’t always ruminate on the past
    • She also is compassionate for herself and doesn’t blame herself for making the decisions she did even if she could redo it
  • Basically, you can be sorry about something but not regret it
  • Evelyn was offering her an exclusive deal to sell the rights to this biography which could be astronomical for her career
    • Monique was hesitant because she didn’t know why Evelyn was doing this
      • Evelyn promised that by the end of it she would know exactly why
  • When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen
    • The world doesn’t give things, you take things
  • She learned that life doesn’t get easier just because it becomes more glamorous

The difference between a star and an actress is that the star feels comfortable being the very thing the world wants her to be

  • She made compromises and re-molded herself and eventually split with her husband in order to chase her dreams and become a star
  • She and Dawn Adler fell in love and then he proposed to her publicly on the red carpet
  • Be wary of men with something to prove
  • Dawn hit her two months into their marriage, but she was still trying to delude herself into thinking she had the perfect life
  • Stars want to be told they’re adored, and they want you to repeat yourself
  • Monique learned from her father that she should do work that expands her heart and excites her
    • That’s the way he lived his life
  • Her and Celia decided to become best friends and help each other out
  • People think intimacy is about sex, but intimacy is about truth
    • When you realize you can tell someone your truth
    • When you can show yourself to them and can stand in front of them bear, their response is “you’re safe with me” That’s intimacy
  • It’s not so great being loved for something you didn’t do
    • She’s referring to the feeling that she’s mostly been praised and valued because of her looks
  • After the premiere, she was told that Celia was rumored to be a lesbian, and that Don was cheating on her
  • Evelyn finally admitted that the love of her life was Celia Saint James and that she was bisexual

Reader’s note: I really don’t like Monique. Each time she messes up, jumps the gun, and mislabels Evelyn, she gets so emotional and it’s pretty annoying. I want her to just calm down and listen instead of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions so emotionally.

  • Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times, reality simply waits patiently for you to run out of energy to deny it
  • Harry delivered her divorce papers from Dawn
    • Basically, she gets the house and half of his money, but she can’t speak about their relationship to anyone, and Dawn was determined to blacklist her in the industry
  • Evelyn confessed her love to Celia
  • Evelyn corrected Monique and said heartbreak is loss, but divorce is just a piece of paper
  • Monique negotiated a deal with her boss to get a raise and promotion if she can convince Evelyn to do a cover story with a photo shoot for Vivant
    • She finally negotiates and convinces Evelyn to do a cover and a photo shoot so that Monique can keep her job
  • Celia was worried about not winning the Oscar after being nominated, but Evelyn reassured her that she’ll still love her no matter what
  • She did a French film with partial nudity and it helped make her an international sensation again
  • She had a tough conversation with Celia because Celia was willing to give it all up to be with Evelyn
    • However, Evelyn was a realist and she understood they would put all of their goals and dreams at risk by trying to make a stand and be who they are
    • Evelyn told Celia that she loves her so much that she’s not going to let her throw her entire future away and live a desolate life that Evelyn is familiar with
  • Evelyn found out she was pregnant after the one-night marriage with Mick when she slept with him
    • Celia was furious and didn’t want to be in this relationship anymore
  • She knew she made the right decision ending the pregnancy, and Harry helped her through it, but she wanted nothing more than for Celia to come back
    • They weren’t in contact for the next five years
  • In retrospect, Evelyn knew she should’ve apologized immediately and did everything she could to win Celia back
    • But now that she has so much money and fame, she realizes how hollow it was chasing those goals
  • She pulled a stunt with her co-star Rex North and had an agreement to have a fake marriage for the publicity and promotion of their movie 
  • The rich always want to get richer
    • It is never boring getting your hands on more money
  • Her and Rex stayed married for 2 more years because they were being signed by a new studio for 3 movies and were going to make a lot of money
  • While they were trying to stage a fake affair, Harry proposed that they actually get married since they love each other already
    • He also wanted to eventually have a partner and a family
    • She thought maybe it could work with them two and Celia and John’s fake marriage
  • The story broke at the same time as the story of Joy being pregnant with Rex’s child
    • Their movie set records and their fake marriage was finally over as planned
  • At the academy awards, after losing the Oscar, she finally reconnected with Celia in the bathroom and they confessed to each other how they felt
  • Celia and John were the maid of honor and best man for Evelyn and Harry’s wedding
  • Accepting that something is true isn’t the same as thinking that it is just
  • Evelyn and Harry discussed having a biological child together which is what they both wanted
    • The next step was to talk to John and Celia about it
  • Harry and Evelyn had a baby girl named Connor
  • Evelyn taught Monique to have compassion for others and for themselves in complex situations
  • She met with her ex Dawn and they talked about everything
    • He profusely apologized and knew that he couldn’t make up for what he did
    • They ultimately decided that they can be friendly without being friends and still do this movie together
  • Evelyn messed up and did a sex scene without Celia’s approval
    • Celia sent divorce papers to John and broke up with Evelyn
  • Her problem wasn’t that she was bisexual and it ruined her relationship. Her problem was that even though she loves Celia and never cheated on her, she used sex and her body to get other things she wanted, which she saw as just as important as her relationship with Celia
    • In retrospect, she now knows it was wrong
  • Pain is sometimes stronger than the need to keep up appearances
  • She finally won her Oscar for best actress, Max won for Best Director, and Harry for best picture
  • Monique’s ex-husband David showed up at her apartment wanting to talk about things
    • In no uncertain terms, she tells David that they weren’t meant for each other and she wishes him well
  • Evelyn agreed to marry Max and divorce Harry
    • Everyone seemed to be okay with it
  • They had a great honeymoon and she loved the feeling of being loved again since Celia
  • She confronted Max when he found out she was bisexual
    • She told him that he knew she was going to leave him eventually, either now or later
  • Harry got into an accident and Evelyn tried to cover it up with her driver
  • It’s not all luck. It’s luck and being a son of a bitch (agreessive, tenacious, bold)
  • Evelyn told her daughter the truth about everything, and also that they were moving to Spain because it was her way of healing their family
    • Her daughter agreed to see a psychiatrist and also have dinner together every night
  • Celia and Evelyn married each other in their bed one night to make it official to themselves
  • She lived a quiet and chased life with Robert as her husband for the next 11 years after Celia passed
  • Eventually, Connor was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at age 39
  • She was devastated after her daughter passed and was buried next to her father
  • In her biography, Evelyn wants Monique to capture the idea that she didn’t care about the fame or the money
    • She just misses the people that she loved
    • And that she got it wrong a lot of the times with her priorities
  • She realizes now that all she was ever looking for was family
  • She wants people to know that she would make every ugly decision again and even worse if it could protect the ones she loved and if it could save them
  • Evelyn revealed that the man Harry fell in love with was Monique’s father
    • He was the guy who died in the car accident because of Harry
  • The thin line between deciding if you are sad or angry comes down to the answer to one question: can you assign blame?
  • In his letter, Monique’s father wrote to Harry that he didn’t want to break up his family and cared too much about his wife to leave her as well as his daughter

Reader’s note: Once again, Monique is being very annoying and frustrating. She’s mad at Evelyn calling her self-interested for her generosity thus far. She’s being really shortsighted and petty, and it’s really irritating

Monique then says she deserves the story and the benefits from it. Thankfully, Evelyn corrects her and says that nobody deserves anything and that people need to go out and get what they want.

  • Monique says she hates Evelyn, and Evelyn says that hatred is such a simple and uncomplicated emotion

Reader’s note: Now Evelyn is telling Monique that she’s missing the entire point of the whole thing. The letter was to show Monique that her father loved her and was willing to give up true romantic love for her and her family. Unfortunately, Monique is too unintelligent and emotional to realize this, especially in the context of Evelyn’s entire life story. I really hate Monique’s character so much.

  • After the photoshoot, Monique realizes that Evelyn plans to kill herself since she’s also dying from breast cancer
    • She already sent her assistant Grace away to Costa Rica for a week and the interviews for the book are done
  • You don’t have to make yourself okay for a good mother. A good mother makes herself okay for you
  • The reports say that Evelyn died of an accidental prescription drug overdose
    • She left most of her fortune to charity because she wanted to try and make the lives of the people who come after her just a little bit better

Closing thoughts:

I really liked this novel, definitely a great recommendation. I can see why so many people liked it. The story is well-written and the character development is very compelling.

Even though this is a fictional story, it definitely feels authentic enough to be a real story. Evelyn feels like a megastar actress who actually worked her way up in Hollywood. It’s also interesting because we know upfront that she’ll end up having seven husbands, but it’s still so interesting to follow along in as she recounts her story to experience how those marriages came about.

The book is also almost a mystery-romance type book because of the plot twists, trying to figure out who her true love is, and why she chose Monique to write her biography.

My biggest qualm with the book however was Monique’s character. I can understand her motivations and why she acted the way she did, but I felt like it was unnecessary to make her so unlikeable. In my opinion, it felt like the author was trying to show how emotionally distressed Monique was when she found out the truth, and tried to rationalize her resentment toward Evelyn.

Even though the author was trying to show development in her character throughout the story, it actually made Monique seem even more childish and irrational than before. It felt like fake, scripted drama made for a reality TV show. It would have made more sense to me to have Monique pause, reflect, and realize that she would have reacted negatively before her interactions with Evelyn. After, however, she should have grown and learned from Evelyn and reacted with more perspective. But she didn’t, which was frustrating. In fact, she acted more entitled and judgemental, which is the opposite of what she should have learned from this experience.

Aside from this, the book is still really well-written. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who likes this genre of fiction and romance.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are a couple of really good, main takeaways from this book. The main piece of advice that Evelyn gives Monique is basically that you have to take what you want from life because it won’t give it to you.

However, I think the even better lesson and takeaway is what Evelyn had to learn the hard way through regret:

  • Understand where your values lie and be sure to prioritize the things that are most important to you

I think the biggest lesson Evelyn actually learned was that she often prioritized the wrong things, mostly her career over her family and her loved ones. If she would have realized that and done it sooner, she would have had much more time with Celia and lived a much happier life.


Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo recounts her illustrious life, how she built her career while navigating love, fame, and her seven marriages.

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Rating: 3 out of 5.


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