Really, really glad I suggested this one for my IRL book club. I’d heard great things, and wasn’t disappointed. It’s historical fiction, and it plays with some weighty themes, but it never stops being a fun read. It’s this great mix of serious historical fiction (with a focus that feels totally fresh) and trashy beach read. I say “trashy” not because the book itself is trashy, but its subject matter–Old Hollywood–can’t help but evoke that gossipy, tell-all feeling. Especially since the premise of the book is literally a tell-all. And Evelyn doesn’t hold back.
The book is told in frame. Evelyn Hugo is like a fictional mash-up between Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. She’s a blonde bombshell famous for having had seven husbands, and she has been notoriously close-lipped about her private life since she transitioned from acting to charity work. Now she’s auctioning off all her most famous dresses to benefit cancer research, and her reps have contacted the classy magazine Monique Grant works for. Monique is an up and coming writer who worked her ass off for her job, but finds herself stifled by being the lowest writer in the magazine’s hierarchy. She gets none of the interesting stories she dreamed of writing. But Evelyn Hugo will only talk to Monique, it turns out, and no one knows why. It’s Monique or nothing. It turns out to be more than just a story about some old dresses, too. Evelyn wants to tell Monique her life story, with the caveat that she not publish it until Evelyn is dead.
The book flashes back and forth between the frame story with Monique, who is a biracial New Yorker going through a divorce, and Evelyn’s life from the 1940s to present day. The book is mostly Evelyn with small flashes back to Monique. I really liked Monique as a character; she made an interesting parallel for Evelyn, for spoilery reasons I won’t go into. But my one complaint with this book was that I think the frame story needed more fleshing out. I wanted more from Monique, not less. As it is right now, Evelyn is the star of this book.
Evelyn is far from a perfect person, and knows it, but the way she tells her story is refreshing. She has very few regrets, and admits to Monique that many of her mistakes she would make over again.
I don’t normally go for historical fiction, but this was right up my alley. The view into Old Hollywood was fascinating, especially from the POV of a young starlet, and one who has several secrets up her sleeves. I also loved the way the diversity in the story felt so natural. The world Jenkins Reid was writing about felt real. I kept forgetting I wasn’t reading about an actual famous actress.
Highly recommend this one!
Read Harder Challenge: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60.