Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann

I was eviscerated by all the hideous truths of this book. Could barely breathe for days. Granted, I must be one of few women of my age and with my general cultural tastes without a foregrounding in what Valley of the Dolls is actually about, and how tragic it is. But, hey, I didn’t know! It is truly and shockingly entirely fucking awful.

It’s super fun too, and I take most things really seriously - too seriously, people say - but it’s a struggle to make light of such a persistently ghoulish story.

We’ve all read books which tackle the many, many ways in which women are abused by men, but this seems so complete and unrelenting in its torture, and all of it dressed up in the finery of fame. Of course! Fame is fickle. Its winners pay with their lives. But they do so in Valley of the Dolls as if in a true, full-gore horror movie.

I began it by the fire during Twixtmas, in a rare few hours off from a mega brain-frazzling work project. Early on, I wasn’t especially impressed by the language or the exposition. But I’ll carry on with this nubile romp, I thought, my brain deserves, nay needs, such a thing after the 2020 it’s been subjected to. It had me by the gut to the very end, and I didn’t see the final wrench coming.

It is thrilling as well as shocking, describing women’s thoughts and sexual activity in a way that feels daring for today never mind more than half a century ago. So what I’ve decided to take away from this is:

1. Be brave. People are ready to hear this shit.

2. A bit of telling is OK if you’re writing a story across many years, characters and locations.