Book review: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

27 Jun

9780349008325Valley of the Dolls took the world by storm when it was first published, fifty years ago. Never had a book been so frank about sex, drugs and show business. It is often sited as the bestselling novel of all time.

Dolls – red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight. For Anne, Neely and Jennifer, it doesn’t matter, as long as the pill bottle is within easy reach. These three beautiful women become best friends when they are young and in New York, struggling to make their names in the entertainment industry. Only when they reach the peak of their careers do they find there’s nowhere left to go but down – to the Valley of the Dolls.

I’d heard of Valley of the Dolls but until I was asked if I’d like to review it in celebration of its 50th anniversary, I didn’t know much about it. One look the beautifully packaged anniversary paperback with its glossy black cover and hot pink page edges and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and as soon as I started reading I was hooked!

What struck me straight away about this book is how readable and relevant it still is today. It definitely earns its modern classic label. Remove the time references and parts of this book could well have been written today and I could see its influence on writers such as Candace Bushnell, Lauren Weisberger and Jackie Collins.

For those who haven’t read it, this is the story of three girls who all go to New York to make a new start and the ups and downs of the lives of Anne, Jennifer and Neely as they struggle to make it to the top, captivated me. It’s a gossip- filled, glamorous and sometimes shocking read (especially if you put it in its historical context) that feels like a behind the scenes look at the worlds of theatre, film and television.

Set between 1947 and 1965 the first half of the book covers the years 1945-47 and really focuses on setting up the characters and getting to know them. Anne is the lead and I liked her from the start. She’s bright and ambitious and her only wish is to escape the confines of her well-mannered upbringing and the expectations that she’ll follow the life path laid out for occupants of her small town. I loved the way that Anne stayed true to her ideals throughout the story, particularly in love.

Jennifer and Neely both meet Anne during her early days in New York. Both are looking for fame and fortune and I loved reading about the rises and falls in their fortunes. This is very much a story about the highs and the lows and again, many of the themes and issues in it are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago – one of the most surprising things about this book for me is that despite all of the advances that have been made in the last fifty years, many of the themes still ring true; the pressures on women to look and act a certain way, the pressure to be thin and young looking, addiction, the challenges posed by wanting a career and to be a parent and the age old challenge of finding and holding onto love.

As you can probably tell, I loved this book and if you haven’t read it, please do give it a try. For fans old and new, Virago has also released a special edition hardback, notebook and mug to celebrate Valley of the Dolls¬†50th anniversary¬†all of which have now been added to my wish list!


Valley of the Dolls 50th Anniversary paperback is released on Thursday 30th June by Virago

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