Scandal and Glamour in Old Hollywood

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid

The cover of the book The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by author Taylor Jenkins Reid to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover image features a blonde woman wearing a green gown with a pearl necklace set against a rich red background.

Ageing Hollywood icon, Evelyn Hugo, is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. When she personally selects unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her life story, no one is more surprised than Monique herself.

Evelyn Hugo’s life as an actress and Hollywood icon through the 50s, 60s and 70s, has been a string of scandals, marriages and divorces. It’s sure to be one hell of a story and Monique is determined that this opportunity will be the one that jump starts her career. After all, she didn’t choose to stay in Los Angeles while her husband moved to New York so she could stay on the editing desk at Vivant magazine forever. But as Evelyn’s story nears its end, it becomes clear exactly why Ms Hugo sought out this unknown writer, as the lives of the two women intersect in tragic and irreversible ways.

Set in Los Angeles and steeped in old Hollywood glamour, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is everything we love about the lives of the rich and famous. It’s gossipy, scandalous, sexy and has a surprising twist. This makes the story sound frivolous, but in terms of storytelling, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is no lightweight. It weaves themes of ambition and success, love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal. Evelyn herself is glamorous, sultry, ambitious and formidable. One cannot help but be seduced by the famous Ms Hugo. Her seven husbands were only ever extras in the story of her extraordinary life.

Me, I’ve always gone after what I wanted with everything in me. Others fall into happiness. Sometimes I wish I was like them. I’m sure sometimes they wish they were like me.

Evelyn, page 344

I loved how the story was interspersed with news, tabloid and blog articles to give the reader a perspective of Evelyn from the outside world at that particular time. I also loved how each section of the book devoted to a particular husband opens with an illustrative moniker, such as ‘Poor Ernie Diaz‘, ‘Goddamn Don Adler‘ and ‘Gullible Mick Riva‘. It really set the tone for the character of that particular husband that was to follow.

I hope they make this book into a movie! It would be stunning on screen – from Evelyn’s early years growing up poor in New York, through her successful years as a famous Hollywood actress in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the marriages, the love affairs, the celebrity, all set against a backdrop of Old Hollywood glamour and an enthralling tale of what one woman was prepared to do and the sacrifices she would make to ensure the longevity of her own success.

Published 2018 by Simon & Schuster, 385 pages.

A Timeless Portrayal of Female Friendships Set in Naples, Italy

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Cover of the book My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante featuring the face of a young girl looking straight ahead into the distance. The cover image is in black and white and is to accompany the book review on the same page.

Admittedly, I’m a bit late to the party with My Brilliant Friend by Italian author Elena Ferrante; it was originally published back in 2012. Since then, it has sold over 11 million copies worldwide and been made into a successful series for HBO, scripted entirely in Italian.

The story follows two girls, Elena and Lila, as they navigate life from childhood to adolescence, growing up in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples.

Lila is fearless, tough, rebellious and unpredictable. At school, her brilliance and ferocious intelligence soon becomes apparent. By contrast, Elena is quiet, reflective, insecure and diligent. They fascinate and depend on each other, but never in equal measure. Their friendship is complex; layered with love and rivalry; a constant desire to be doing as well, or better, than the other.

‘I devoted myself to studying and to many things that were difficult, alien to me, just so I could keep pace with that terrible, dazzling girl.’

Elena, My Brilliant Friend (page 47)

Both girls have an enormous appetite for learning, knowledge and discovery. However, there is little opportunity for smart girls to escape their oppressive lives in poor, post-war Naples, and the odds are greatly stacked against them. Dangers, hardships and violence permeate their city. Family rivalries and shifting alliances are common place, as is the looming threat of the Camorra – an Italian Mafia-type organisation established in the Campania region of Italy, of which Naples is the capital. 

While Elena goes on to study at middle school (an opportunity her mother resents), Lila must withdraw from school and instead begins work at her father’s shoe shop, where she is ambitious and determined. Elena and Lila’s paths diverge, but their intense friendship cannot be replaced or replicated, and so their destinies are seemingly entwined.

My Brilliant Friend is without nostalgia and sentimentality and is a timeless portrayal of female friendships. The setting of post-war Naples makes it a gritty, complex, coming-of-age story.

My Brilliant Friend is Book One of the four book series known as the ‘Neopolitan Novels’ by Elena Ferrante. Together, the four novels capture the lives and friendship of Elena and Lila from young girls through to women in their 60s. 

If you haven’t already read My Brilliant Friend, pour yourself a Chianti, settle in and immerse yourself in this honest, heart-breaking and beautiful story of two brilliant friends.

Published 2012 by Europa Editions, 336 pages.

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