Pills 101 – Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Valley of  the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann is described as a cult classic that boasts having sold more than 30 million copies world-wide. It was first published in 1966 and became an instant success. Jacqueline Susann became the first female author to sell such quantities of her novels, helping to pave the way for future female fiction writers, especially in the genre of chic-lit.

What are dolls: red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight.

Valley of the Dolls chronicles the lives of three female characters in New York City beginning in 1945, oscillating from each females point-of-view from ‘chapter’ to ‘chapter’ (I use the term ‘chapter’ lightly because they are more like ‘sections’). There is Anne, escaping from a life of expectation and tradition in Lawrenceville, Massachusetts. The novel opens with her perspective and I found this first part hard to get through because Anne is very well-bred and with that comes very little excitement. However, as the novel progresses and you are faced with the calamities of the other pill popping dolls, Anne becomes the one constant I came to look forward to.

Next we are introduced to Neely, the bright faced vaudeville performer with light aspirations of ‘making it big’ on the stage of New York or the movies. Neely is a few years younger than Anne and looks up to her for help and guidance.  It is Anne in the end who provides Neely with her big break and she shoots to super-stardom, but of course, popping too many dolls along the way.I thought I would enjoy Neely’s sections the most since she is always on the go, but whether we blame the pills or world-wide success, Neely ends up being nothing but an ungrateful b****!

Finally we meet Jennifer, the stunning beauty who has a controlling mother at home.  Jennifer’s mother is the sole reason she continues to seek out rich men (because of her constant nag to send money home), but in the end, Jennifer makes it on her own as an actress in Paris. I would say Jennifer ended up being my favorite section to read, but was sad they were cut short…

The three girls briefly live together when they are between marriages and each finds solace and destruction when using dolls. If you like the television show Mad Men, this novel reminds me of the era it portrays 100%, except we focus on three successful women, who still live under the stigma of being nothing without a man.

Overall I really enjoyed this novel and once I got through the first section I could not put it down (finished in about 1 week!).  I think this is a great novel, especially for young girls to read, since it teaches you about humility, drugs, sex and love. Viva la sexual revolution! However, this does not stop it from ending on a very sad note… (which I of course will not give away!).

This novel was also turned into a movie in 1967. Below is ‘part 1’  found on YouTube (the entire movie can be watched here): Overall, I thought the movie did an amazing adaptation of the novel.  The three fierce actresses embodied Susann’s creations of Anne, Neely and Jennifer to pick-perfection. It even helped me better understand motives I found a little foggy in the novel.  But overall, I recommend reading the novel and then the movie or vice-versa.

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3 thoughts on “Pills 101 – Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

  1. I’ve wanted to read this ever since I was little and going through my dad’s records I would find music from the Valley of the Dolls Soundtrack. Me being little and loving dolls, of course I was curious. Of course at some point along the way I figured out that it wasn’t about “dolls”.

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