This novel had been on my radar and TBR list ever since narfna’s review over a year ago. I didn’t end up reading it till this past May because I was on a fantasy kick and wasn’t sure if I was in the mood for something more straightforward. However, I finally hit the point where I needed to switch it up so my reading has been a bit more varied this year.
I met a good friend of mine for coffee shortly after reading this one, one of my few in real life friends that shares my love for reading, and immediately raved about it to her. I’m not sure if she has picked it up yet or not – her sister is a librarian so she has an excess of recommendations!
Based on the title, it is easy to think of Elizabeth Taylor, but there is no Richard Burton equivalent among her husband’s. Her passion is directed in other ways, and very much hidden from society. The famous and glamorous Evelyn Hugo has granted a rare interview to the magazine Vivant on the condition that they send Monique Grant to conduct the interview. Monique is a relative unknown in journalism so it doesn’t make much sense, but Grant accepts the challenge. As a result, the reader has a quick overview of the public perception of Hugo’s life as Grant conducts research prior to the interview and shares a summary of the husbands with the reader while also alluding to a long lasting rivalry with Celia St. James, a former co-star and peer of Hugo’s. I was definitely getting potential Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine vibes, and was even more interested in reading about the friendship and relationship between Hugo’s sex pot and St. James’ sweetheart/ingenue character.
Some other readers have mentioned that Grant is the weakest link in this and while I agree, I don’t have an issue with it. I don’t think a straight fictional memoir would have worked as well, and Hugo was enough of a tour de force that I didn’t actually need to have an interesting character driving the framing device because it would have distracted from Hugo’s story.
Evelyn Hugo takes an unflinching look at her life in her interviews with Grant. When young, she took any opportunity she could to get where she wanted to be, including marrying someone simply to get to the West Coast. She moves up in Hollywood, and uses her sexuality to get what she wants; she also finds the right allies who remain at her side even at moments when it looks like her career is over. Hugo learns quickly how to play the game, and even with her drama filled life, she knows how to control the narrative. She is also an incredibly loyal friend, and a fascinating character. I loved Evelyn, she was larger than life but also very thoughtful and reflective even as she lived the Hollywood life style.
Like almost everyone else, I also enjoyed Reid’s Daisy Jones and the Six, but none of the characters, not even Daisy, made nearly as strong of an impression as Evelyn. It would have been easy for this novel to slip into being a cliche about the Golden Age of Hollywood but Jenkins made it so much more.