Steinbeck, eat your heart out. If you thought that Of Mice and Men was the ultimate novel (well, technically, a novella) about the American Dream, then you may have to reconsider. The American Dream is a concept familiar to many – including all of you sorry souls who have studied it in school *cries* – but for those who remain ignorant, it’s basically the concept that if you work with sufficient determination, then you will achieve your dream. Familiar, eh? Valley of the Dolls captures the ultimately tragic essence of this, and puts it in a glamorous showbiz context. And what’s not to love about some hot (well, 1960s) Hollywood gossip?
Susann’s novel tells the tragic tales of three women who, initially unwittingly, attempt to climb the Hollywood hierarchy (if only I’d thought of that phrase in my mock today) through modelling, acting and generally being socialites. All seems to be going swimmingly, until Anne, Neely and Jennifer discover ‘dolls’; a colloquialism for drugs. Their dazzling ‘private’ lives and successful careers are now being jeopardised for the sake of a few blissful nights sleep… And once the hounds of the tabloids have their teeth in, there’s no letting go…
Normally I wouldn’t go for this type of Hollywood stardom book – unless it’s written by Wendy Holden, who’s guaranteed to make me laugh my polyester tights off – but this has actually given me a taste for them. Admittedly, I did buy Valley of the Dolls mistakenly; I thought it was some sort of Young Adult, ‘Uglies‘ type novel, and as I was in a bit of a rush for a train I had to make a quick decision. However, I definitely don’t regret my mistake, because it’s opened my eyes up to a whole new genre – I’d always assumed that this type of book would be, quite frankly, irritating. I was expecting a fluffy, whiny, look-I’m-blonde-and-pretty-can-I-be-a-movie-star type novel, but I was pleasantly surprised – scratch that, I was damn impressed – by the sheer grittiness and realism of Susann’s work. The characters were all totally individual and felt like real people (warning- I say that about characters a lot), and one of the crucial factors was the sheer nitty-grittyness of them. Susann describes them as being human – she showcases their good and bad days, their rises to stardom and their inevitable falls. She doesn’t cover Hollywood and these particular American Dreams in glitter; Susann presents them cold, naked and shivering. She strips these celebrities of their theatrical make-up and exposes them as humans.
“Age settled with more grace on ordinary people, but for celebrities—women stars in particular—age became a hatchet that vandalized a work of art.”
Five out of five stars. Absolutely first class.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY: ‘You could be the female version of Sherlock.’