Valley of the Dolls is a little…quaint. Weird to say that about a book whose title is a euphemism for drugs, but there it is. After Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper’s flasher and faster portrayals of showbiz, Jacqueline Susann’s tale feels almost old-fashioned. But this was very much the forerunner to the Hollywood insider novel.
Three young girls in the 60s loose themselves in a bottle of pills, ‘dolls’, as they try to find fame, love and happiness through the decades. Anne is the patrician model from New England, irrevocably in love with a handsome cad. Neely is a vaudeville rising star with talent to burn but a matching ego. Jennifer is a beautiful starlet who’s secretly a vulnerable romantic.
Through the decades we see their fortunes rise and fall and get to peek behind the curtain at showbiz backstage. Some of the most interesting parts are the business deals and contractual wrangling that accompany the razzmatazz. Susann shows the ruthless core hidden by the glitter.
So maybe a disservice to reduce this to just a Hollywood blockbuster: the women are savvy, strong, flawed characters. Fame is all the most interesting when you see the fallibility behind the mask, without the extreme caricatures that often accompany modern novels of this genre.
Read: To attend a showbiz party in 1966