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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Scary Stories 2: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

One of Edgar Allan Poe’s most popular short stories with the media today, The Tell-Tale Heart, is a narrative of self-destruction. From the beginning, the narrator can be recognized as an untrustworthy source of information, especially with his proclomation: “but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them.”

It’s just like Egard Allan Poe, master of horror, to leave us at the mercy as a mad-man-narrator. But what really drove him insane is the beating of what the narrator thinks is the old man’s heart. “It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder, every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! — do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am.”

Sound of the Tell-Tale Heart – click to hear the heart!

However, this is where the narrator begins to give us false information.  It is not the old man’s heart he hears beating after all, since it still beats when he is dead, but the beating of his own, tell-tale heart, which tells of his hideous deed.

I believe Poe reveals this to us when he has the narrator inform us,  “for it was not the old man who vexed me but his Evil Eye.” I take the eye to be a pun (metonymy) on I, thus what is really driving the narrator crazy, is himself, as he stated in the first sentence of the story.

If you would like to read “The Tell-Tale Heart,” click here. (it will only take you 5-10 minutes to read and will leave you delightfully chilled).

I really wanted to find The Simpsons episode of a “Tell-Tale Heart,” even a tiny snippet, but surprisingly, it was no where to be found (I love The Simpsons Halloween episodes!).  So instead, we must do with a 1953 short animated film that reminds me of The Nightmare Before Christmas with its use of Gothic neo-classical drawings. A very fine substitute; check it out!

A French Classic, Bonjour Tristesse by Fracoise Sagan

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

From the back cover: Endearing, self-absorbed, seventeen-year-old Cécile is the very essence of untroubled amorality. Freed from the stifling constraints of boarding school, she joins her father-a handsome, still-young widower with a wandering eye-for a carefree, two-month summer vacation in a beautiful villa outside of Paris with his latest mistress, Elsa. Cécile cherishes the free-spirited moments she and her father share, while plotting her own sexual adventures with a “tall and almost beautiful” law student. But the arrival of her late mother’s best friend, Anne, intrudes upon a young girl’s pleasures. And when a relationship begins to develop between the adults, Cécile and her lover set in motion a plan to keep them apart…with tragic, unexpected consequences.

The internationally beloved story of a precocious teenager’s attempts to understand and control the world around her, Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse is a beautifully composed, wonderfully ambiguous celebration of sexual liberation, at once sympathetic and powerfully unsparing.

My Review: If you have not read this book, run out to get it right now!  I guarantee you will enjoy this read and will not be able to stop until you have finished.

I picked this book up on a whim because of it’s cover, and because it was on sale.  I was so happy that I was introduced to Francoise Sagan, who seems to have lived a life like her protagonist Cecile.  Sagan marvelously wrote Bonjour Tristesse when she was only 18 years old.  Upon it’s publication, she was immediately indoctrinated into the Parisian intellectual scene.

Bonjour Tristesse translates to Hello Sadness, but I wouldn’t say this novel left me sad or depressed in any way.

It was also made into a beautiful movie in the 70’s, which I highly recommend (although, the book is better), they did the casting to pitch perfection and the locations match to a key.  Take a look at the clip below (only first 10 minutes of movie is in B&W, rest is in colour):