The reason I started reading this novel is because of how popular it was on bookstagram and the overall positive reviews it has received. I did not know much about it, save for what I gathered from some spoilers free reviews and the title of the book. I read it in a few days and after finishing it, I can say that it is not my cup of tea, but that I completely understand why a lot of people like it and have overall positive impressions of it. To be completely honest, I found the plot a typical summer read, with a little of scandalous Hollywood and heartbreak peppered on top. I did find it quite easy to read and did enjoy it, but I am not sure I found a lot of substance beneath the surface.
The plot is quite simple to retell. Monique, a newly hired journalist is requested to do an interview by the titular Evelyn Hugo, a popular Hollywood bomb shell. At first, Monique is under the impression that Evelyn is hiring her to write an exclusive interview ahead of Evelyn’s charity sale of her dresses, but the truth is different. Instead, Evelyn opens up to Monique, for the first time publicly and tells her the story of a real person, not Hollywood creation. Here, readers learn who was her love, her past before she became her famous self as well as why she was married so many times. The plot jumps between Evelyn’s story and Monique’s present life, with intention to show how Evelyn’s life impacts Monique’s. The novel is also filled with a lot of newspaper articles and often skims or flies over certain parts of Evelyn’s life. That is somewhat understandable as there was a lot of ground to cover in Evelyn’s eventful life, but I wish we learned more about Monique.
The two main characters in the novel were arguably Evelyn and Monique. Overall, I think that Evelyn is way more developed than Monique, which is not surprising given that for the longest time in the novel, Monique is simply a vessel through which Evelyn tells her story. It is only through her connection with Evelyn that we learn more about her. What I found quite jarring is the fact that Monique’s race, or the fact she is biracial, is mentioned quite unnaturally on pretty much the same page. I found subsequent mentions of Monique’s race quite clumsily written, mostly there to indicate that because of her race she still feels out of place. Without spoiling too much, her father’s race and his sexuality is also relevant for the big plot twist towards the end of the novel. On the other hand, Evelyn is Cuban, but white passing. I think that in Evelyn’s case, this discussion of race and white passing was a lot more successful, as it was not uncommon for non white actresses in Hollywood to erase any traces of something that could mark them as the ‘other’. The other big topic that was overall discussed better in the novel is that of sexuality and (not) accepting LBGTQ people. It is a huge part of the novel and I really believe that way more research and attention was paid to that aspect of the novel.
Speaking of Evelyn’s identity, at first, I was uncomfortable with how sexualized all of her descriptions of her were. But, as the time went on, I realized that this sexuality and the way she used it are a huge part of her character and the way she rose to the top. The more I learned about her story and horrible background made me respect her more. Her strong and unapologetic narrative paints a woman who knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. However, it is also a story of heartbreak and search for a family after her real one was broken. Most of Evelyn’s husbands are described in not very flattering light, and except for one, are not very complex characters. I did not care too much about this because this is Evelyn’s story that she is telling under her conditions, not that of her ex-husbands, most of which simply used her one way or another.
With all of that being said, I still could not find too much depth in this novel. Due to the plot of the novel, that of a dying actress from old Hollywood retelling her story, everything was told us, served on a silver platter. The big plot twist at the end and the explanations as to why Evelyn chose Monique to tell her story, out of all journalists available, were somewhat surprising, but not as effective as the author might have wanted it. Every emotion by the characters is not left for the reader to understand or think about, but was simply explained in great detail to us. I though the writing style was quite sappy and filled with cliches. A lot of thought and one liners Evelyn utters during the novel were already said somewhere and not a lot of this novel was original. Still, it was enjoyable and it was quite easy to read. After the last book I read which was Ishiguro’s heartbreaking ‘Never Let Me Go’, I needed something easy.
The ending of the novel was also not entirely surprising, but given that there were some hints left throughout the novel to indicate this could happen, I was not upset by it. I will not spoil for you, but I will just say that I liked that it was not all wrapped with a pretty little bow. Instead, it was quite realistic and logical given Evelyn’s life story and her character overall. I just wish there was more attention placed on Monique’s story, especially the effects meeting and engaging with Evelyn had on her. There were some mentions of it, but I felt like Monique’s life and her story left largely unused and unspoken about.
At the end, I scored this book 3/5. As I said, I completely understand the popularity of this book and the author overall. I enjoyed it as an easy summer read, but I am afraid it was not completely my cup of tea. If you are looking for something like that, then maybe you will like it more than me.
What are your thoughts on this book? Did you read anything else by Taylor Jenkins Reid? As usual, if I had missed something important, let me know.