Title: Valley of the Dolls
Author: Jacqueline Susann
Genre/Themes: Modern Classic, Drama, Addiction, Fame, Fortune, Sex
Blurb from Goodreads
At a time when women were destined to become housewives, Jacqueline Susann let us dream.
Anne, Neely, and Jennifer become best friends as struggling young women in New York City trying to make their mark.
Eventually, they climb their way to the top of the entertainment industry only to find that there’s no place left to go but down, into the Valley of the Dolls.
The more I think of this book the more it frustrates me…. I want to slash my rating right down but yet am still recommending it as a must read because that’s the way my crazy brain works!
When reading this you have to bear in mind it’s 50+ years since it was first published so my god this must have caused an absolute scandal.
It’s an utterly salacious exploration of fame, fortune and how to get to the top… But also how to come crashing down again. It’s filled with casual drug use, casual sex, casual backbiting, casual friendships…
It’s just fabulously trashtastic but to me the overriding focus of this book is on sexual politics and the glaring disparity there is between men and women.
In this story there are women trying to get ahead in life by trading on their looks, their youth, their bodies. Using themselves to catch a man of a certain social standing. To be someone.
And in return the man to seems to get all the sex he wants whenever he wants it. He gets that image of the successful man with a nubile beauty on his arm. And all in exchange for a few mink coats? A necklace or two?? And he can have a bit on the side? Trade in the girl for a younger model when the time is right.
And to me this book just screams that the women somehow think they are liberated but then when they are so easily tossed aside they are still shackled to the idea that they need the man, the marriage. That without the man, the nice clothes, the house, the parties, the 2.4 children they aren’t really anyone??
And I’m not defending the women here. Every character is a raging tosser. I loathe them all. But god it was fun hating them!!! But also I spent my time trying to figure out just who was the biggest tosser????
And there’s this one scene that made me just utterly lose my cool altogether where the woman was trying to get her boyfriend all hot and heavy by prancing about in lingerie and basically masturbating in front of him. But as she was doing all this she had a goal in mind. Marriage. Security. They had been together a long time. She wanted him to put a ring on it. She was there suggestively telling him to look at her, look at all what he could call his and his alone if he just dropped everything there and then and the two of them drove off into the night to elope and get married. And the men tried to get it on with her, like he was gagging for it but importantly, she said no. Not now but yes after.
After we elope to this place to get married.
And in the middle of all this she gets a very serious phone call about the death of her friend’s relative, she has to take this call and he takes the opportunity to throw her down on the bed. She quietly tries to dissuade him while keeping her voice steady on the phone so her friend won’t know, and the verb used is he “pounds” her.
And afterwards she just says after that you took advantage of me and I’m like WHAAAAT??? AND NOW I AM MAD BECAUSE HELLO WAY TO REINFORCE RAPE CULTURE!!
And I know, 50+ years ago it was published…
And you can say well she legitimately was leading him on but know what I will say to you them. SHE STILL ACTUALLY SAID NO. And that is rape to me and I’m like damn this book is just so fucked up because it’s like the perfect oh she was asking for it and I think we could really do without that sort of storyline in books.
So people do level accusations against this as actually being anti-feminist despite all the surface sexual freedom of these women and how Anne in particular is financially independent etc…
And in that instance I want to say yes it was because it wasn’t shown that the woman felt she had been particularly violated even though to me she had. And I just rage every time I read anything that gives volition to the belief of well what did she expect because she was asking for it.
So this book just majorly unsettled me but I think that maybe I could also find an argument for how that was a good thing???
Because being feminist doesn’t mean you portray only one way of thinking. You just put women out there in the spotlight for a change. Have them be the focus. Look every character in this is a shitty human being. They are all shady. And it’s trashy. But like in a good way. Trashtastic fabulousness.
And if you read it full in the knowledge that this broke boundaries for women’s writing; I mean it was basically called pornography in its day and it’s just so not!! It’s more akin to being a sixties Sex and the City with what it did for women talking about their sexuality. But yeah, questionable things happen regarding reinforcement of negative stereotypes and rape culture, offensive language regarding being gay is just bandied around casual as you like…
But 50+ years ago….
So this book might just be a book about women who only see their lives as complete when they have a man and ultimately I’m irked by the female characters for being complicit in the failure of their fight for parity with men because I spent most of the book wanting to shout at them to open their freaking eyes to the crap that was going on around them and what they were subjecting themselves too… but what the publication of this book did was trail the way for more writers to write about issues affecting women.
And when this book did it, it did it with a gleefully trashy style!
For a change the women were the ones that were responsible for being trainwrecks. They made the bad choices in many respects. This was written just when women were beginning to experience sexual liberation but society still shackled them. It said yes you can earn money and be equal…
But only somewhat equal. You still won’t have that same respect as men. You still need to be with a man to be considered whole. You are washed up when you are old. You are replaceable past a certain age.
You want fame? Sell your soul for it.
You want a man? Turn a blind eye to the other women?
In fact. Make women your enemy. Let the time of girl hate and slut shaming roar into being because you still aren’t equal and your sisters are your competition. It’s still a boys club.
So what’s good about this book is that the main trio of female characters are the ones who drive the plot. Ultimately they make their own beds and lie in them. Their hands may have been forced by society but they still were responsible for their storylines and I appreciate that.
I don’t feel however that their voices were distinct enough from each other. The book was set out that each chapter was from a different female character’s PoV and even though I always knew which character was informing the storyline at any given point, this was because I was repeatedly told their name rather than a sense of feeling the character’s personality shine from the prose.
And I wasn’t always a fan of the pacing of the book. I did get very bored on occasion….
Okay A LOT!!
I got bored A LOT and did have to force myself to keep reading to end it quickly because if I didn’t I would have suffered for weeks with this book rather than just one weekend.
So I felt it suffered from a serious case of bloating; overall much too long, in particular the intro chapter from Anne’s PoV went on for what felt like a billion years too many. How time began to elapse in the latter stages of the book really felt jumpy to me and just continuity wise, I thought the book lacked a nice flowing narrative.
And by the end I was pretty much hoping that every character would die in a blaze of trashy glory and just hurry up and end the whole reading experience already because as my buddy reader Anu said it started to feel sensationalist just for the sake of being sensationalist.
But it had its moments.
It was certainly salacious.
It was hella gossipy.
And even though it drove me batty it was definitely a trip worth taking.