Valley of the dolls was strongly recommended to me after I enjoyed Peyton Place earlier this year. And I think that if you enjoyed Peyton Place then you should probably read this one too.
Valley of the dolls is the story of three girls in New York in the 1940s; Anne, Neely and Jennifer, and their lives and loves and careers there. Anne from the provinces escapes her future as a housewife by going to the city, but ends up plastered over the newspapers when she gets engaged to a rich man, despite not wishing to. Neely is struggling to become a theatre star, and Jennifer is trading on her beautiful looks. The dolls are capsules, red or black, often washed down with whisky, which the girls take to make life bearable - they assist sleep, enable energy - essentially modern pick-me-ups, tranquilisers and sleeping pills.
Yes it's kitsch and quite cheesy, but it manages to be simultaneously entertaining and hugely depresssing which makes the kitschness bearable and successful.
The introduction by Julie Burchill suggests that Valley of the Dolls was to the 1960s what Peyton Place had been in the 1950s; i.e. a shocking book that many teenage girls read surreptitiously. That got me wondering as to what the 1990s (when I was a teenager) equivalent was; I don't think there was one in the same way because society had changed a great deal and was a lot more open about sex. The only books I can recall reading surreptitiously were Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High which I felt that my Mum would probably object to on the grounds of their subject matter and lack of literary merit.
It's been published twice by Virago, once in later paperback style and once in 30th anniversary hardback style which is the one that I own. It's a gorgeous cover design and makes me want the other five hardbacks to complete my set of six.