Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (Sep 22 1997) Paperback – 1800
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After all these years, I still love this book, and I think it still holds up as a good read. Anne, Jenifer and Neely are three young women who become friends in 1945, in post-war New York. The book chronicles their trials and tribulations over a period of about 15 years. One becomes a big star and a horrendous diva, one becomes a model and makes a lot of money, and one a lesser star who at one stage makes "art films" in Paris. Husbands and lovers come and go, and all three women end up dependant on prescription drugs / sleeping tablets - the "dolls" of the title.
The characters are well written and the story cracks along at a fair old pace. There's a certain feminist slant to it (although I doubt that was the intention when it was written) in that the heroines live their lives on their terms; even when their men betray them and let them down. But the main thing about this book is that it is a good story; you find yourself rooting for Anne, Neely and Jennifer even if at some points the story you don't especially like them (Neely in particular!).
In its day it was considered quite shocking. It dealt with sex and drug use in a way that was seen as explicit. It certainly did not show up Hollywood and show business in a good light. It's quite fun to try to guess upon whom the characters were based, but I suspect they were not based on anyone, but were compilations, if you like, of various celebrities of the 50's and 60's.
I'm pleased that Virago have decided to release it again as a "modern classic". It's very readable and I do recommend it if you haven't come across it before. It remains one of my all time favourite good reads!
I'm surprised as a teenager in the early 70s I gave this novel a miss first time round. I would have loved it then as my appetite for bonk busting novels were those then written by Rosemary Rogers. Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz et al swiftly followed. I recently read Valley of the Dolls for the first time and I loved every page of the book - even though the sex scenes are quite tame now compared to other novels later published. The story of 3 young starlets as they climb to the top of the show biz ladder only to find that true happiness still eludes them, and their descent into drug dependency - the dolls of the title, uppers and downers, capsules or tablets, red or black washed down with alcohol, is wonderfully told. We can certainly relate to these female characters. There is a Jen, Anne and Neely in all of us. Or we know of women like them. This novel has now peaked my interest to read Jacqueline Susann's other books.
I thought Helen was one of the funniest characters I've ever come across and I found myself unable to put this book down in places as I was so curious to see what happened next to her. The scene with the wig was hysterical!
I didn't care much for Lyon's character but he also highlights again the fact that fame and fortune doesn't always bring a perfect life.
A highly enjoyable read and I think it should definitely make a come back! I mentioned I was reading it to my mum and her eyes widened with delight as she remembered it! She's borrowing it now that I've finished :)
Although I was left with the idea that it was soft porn trash, I thought that now, half a century on, I should give it a try.
I was surprised, very surprised - it is a well constructed and presented tale and is a very good read.
Some of it does not stand the test of time well; for example, when I was a lad uppers were pretty widely available (may even have been available over the counter) and acceptable, which I do not think is the case now.
However, some of it still resonates today, particularly the story of Neely and the corrupting effects of celebrity; so relevant today, where so many are desperate to be instant celebs but give no thought to potential consequences; just the other day, I saw an item on the BBC News website about some lass who wished she had never gone on "Love Island" or whatever, because it had destroyed her life.
Well worth a read.