“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is a fictional biography. It describes the life of Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood actress.


There is not much exciting going on in the book. Obviously there are a lot of divorces and marriages, but nobody is shooting guns from a helicopter or getting eaten by alligators. Even so, I was really captured by the story. Sometimes, between reads, I started to wonder: “How would Evelyn Hugo be doing right now?” The story is not overly dramatic, but still captivating.


I read this whole book on my phone. This started as a life-hack: What if you picked up your phone for mindless doom-scrolling but were instead tricked into reading a book? It sort of worked, but the doom-scrolling and book-reading mindsets are so dissimilar that it is not easy to trick yourself from one to the other.

A while ago the screen of my phone was shattered. It still worked, but I couldn’t put it in my pocket anymore because I didn’t want glass fragments in inconvenient places. I kept it on a shelf in the living room, or brought it with me in a bag, and periodically checked my messages. This alone made quite a difference in my mindset. I felt less anxious to check my phone all the time, and had more attention for other things in life.

However, as soon as the replacement screen came in and I fixed my phone, I got back in my old habits. I carry my phone everywhere I go and check it religiously, even though there are rarely any new messages. It felt better to have it lie on the shelf, but given the choice I still carry the little slot machine with me.

Imperfect people

“And to be honest, I like how calculating and awful you kind of are.”

“This laundry list of compliments seems to have a lot of insults in it”

A competitor actress, Celia, is telling Evelyn what she likes about her. Many of the things Celia likes about Evelyn could be considered objectively bad things. I like the paradox of this, and it makes it more honest. Celia does not have a rose-tinted view of Evelyn. She knows both the good sides and bad sides of Evelyn. She likes her not just because of her good qualities but also because of her bad qualities.

I like impertinent people. I like how bold and daring they are, and the social tension they create. I know it is impolite to be rude and I would not often do it myself, but if someone else does it I inadvertently look up to them.

Complicated feelings

But he also taught me that you could desire someone even when you don’t like him, that you can desire someone especially when you don’t like him.

Evelyn explains her feelings about Don (one of the seven husbands). Her feelings are complicated. Feelings between people cannot be easily rated on a scale from one to five stars. Desire, attraction, intimacy and lust are different things. You can feel both hate and love for the same person. It’s easy to mistake one feeling for another.

The ancient Greeks had seven words for love. You could argue that this is because they were loving people, similar to why the Eskimo have a hundred words for snow. But it is probably because they were philosophical people, and having the correct words made it easier to talk about it.

I probably would still not say to people I love them, or talk about my feelings, no matter how many words exist.

What people think

I should have been plotting to one-up her in some way by planting a story that she was a prude or sleeping around.

Evelyn contemplates slandering Celia. She comes up with two opposite stories, “that she was a prude or sleeping around.” She explains it like this:

That is the fastest way to ruin a woman’s reputation, after all—to imply that she has not adequately threaded the needle that is being sexually satisfying without ever appearing to desire sexual satisfaction.

For me, it also points out that it does not matter what the story is, as long as it is an excuse to judge someone. If someone has different values or norms than you, it is easy to assume theirs are not only different but also incorrect. Then, you can feel smug about yourself, that you are right and they are wrong.


I’m bisexual. Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.

Monique, the author of Evelyn’s biography, asserts that she is gay. Evelyn is offended that this ignores half of her sexuality.

When I first read this I thought this was smart, but now it seems artificial. My understanding is that “gay” does not mean “exclusively lesbian”, but if Evelyn interpreted is as such it makes sense that she feels offended that half of her sexuality is ignored. The “so you fit me into a box” part does not really make sense to me. “Bisexual” could be just as much of a box as “gay”.

The book then relates this incident to Monique often being seen as black even though she is biracial. This whole part feels like a bit of a stretch, to hide some wise lesson in the story.

Even so, people do try to fit other people into boxes. Often these boxes are based on certain external appearances. People are also different on the inside, but this is often ignored because it is harder to classify. For example, you may have heard that companies want an equal distribution of men and women on the board, but you probably never heard that they want as much introverts as extroverts, or a representative amount of left-handed people.


“I know what I’m doing, Harry.” I was wrong. I didn’t know what I was doing.

Here, Evelyn is not lying to Harry, but misjudging her knowledge of the situation. This is quite relatable. Many situations are more complex than they seem, luring you in with a superficially simple problem, which explodes into complexity once you get into it.

Problems you don’t get into may seem superficially simple forever. Just solve the housing crisis by building more houses, solve immigration by blocking people at the border, solve money problems by printing more money.

However, while it’s good to take this Dunning-Kruger effect into account, it should not prevent anyone from tackling problems or doing stuff. Most people don’t always know what they are doing. There is no way to know what you are doing without having it done in the first place.

Things you’re allowed to do

I didn’t yet know that it is OK to grovel for something you really want.

There are many possibilities in life that we don’t use because they don’t seem “normal”. Going to a restaurant alone, giving gifts when it’s not the recipient’s birthday, cutting in line. Some of these limitations are just in your head, and sometimes you haven’t even realized this.


I have no idea that in less than a week, Evelyn Hugo will finish her story, and I’ll find out what this has all been about, and I will hate her so much that I’ll be truly afraid I might kill her.

This overt foreshadowing feels out of place in a book like this. “You won’t believe what happens next!” What is this kind of Buzzfeed-style cliffhanger doing here? It’s so explicit and exaggerated. The story was already plenty engaging. This really kills the mood.


“You’re using reason,” Evelyn says, smiling at me. “It doesn’t always work.”

Monique says this about how Evelyn sees herself. Evelyn is afraid she is not sufficiently attractive and talented. Monique points to some facts that indicate otherwise. Evelyn then points out that reason doesn’t always work.

This feels especially true relating to things happening in your own mind. How you feel about a situation cannot always be changed by cognitively reasoning about a situation. Perhaps you know that you practiced well for an exam, but are still feeling anxious about it. When someone points out that you practiced well, this does not always relieve the anxiety.

Knowing this can be a relieve of itself. You can determine that the feelings are irrational. They are not going away, but they do not reflect the truth of the situation. You can acknowledge them as an incorrect signal while understanding they do not reflect reality.


Evelyn marries various people. These people are themselves very different from each other. This is one of the main themes in the book: different people are different. They think differently, they make other choices, they have other motivations.

When Evelyn is around these different people, she also behaves differently. So not only are different people different, but they make you different as well. Your behavior with your football buddies can seem very strange to your colleagues at work.

Overall, this book was pretty good, and has a lot of interpersonal tension without too much drama.