Written in the 1960s and set in the 1940s, Valley of the Dollsfollows the lives, careers and loves of three female protagonists over the years and subsequent decades.
Three central characters Anne, Neely and Jennifer all possess characteristics that are different from one another. Anne is prim, proper and polite, Neely is feisty and outspoken whilst Jennifer is secretive and insecure although she portrays herself as confident and self-assured. With a diverse range of character traits, readers will be able to identify with at least one of the characters whether in full or part.
The story charts their journey from obscurity through to the height of their respective careers and ultimate demise with narcotics to which all three succumb to. Written fifty years ago this cult classic was largely ahead of its time with many issues tackled in the book still pertinent today.
One topic that seems will always be an issue regardless of the time we live in is that of age, more specifically a woman’s age. The unrealistic expectation for a woman to look forever young is largely felt today. With the media dominated by women looking a certain way and falling within a certain age group, it begs the question: are women only relevant if they fall within a specific age bracket? A constant pressure felt in particular for Jennifer, the elder of the three who desperately tried to conceal her age so as not to kill her chances of ‘making it’
The theme of love features strongly throughout the story. Something felt by all three women, they are all looking for love, but different kinds of love. They find that the reality of love is largely different to the fantasy that little girls are told.
Women having careers and ‘having it all’ is another issue that weighs heavily in the book; something that each of the characters ultimately wants to achieve. Written at a time when it was normal even expected of women to just be housewives and raise children, this book was very progressive and forward-thinking considering the time in which it was published.
The strongest concern throughout the novel for me was the relationship between women. As the story unfolds over a period spanning decades, the relationship between the central characters is tested. For me, this is hugely relevant today and poses questions such as; can you really trust one another as women, do we have hidden agendas? Do we support each other or compete?
Valley of the Dolls is quite hard-hitting and depressing at times and not to everyone’s taste. When I first started reading it I wasn’t sure if I would like or get into it. Then I found myself hating the characters when they did something terrible, feeling sorry for them when their world came crashing down and hoping that things would be alright in the end.
It’s not the best written book in the world, although I feel the language is probably accurate for the time it was written and was just the way people spoke. Not the greatest literature in the world but it’s entertaining for a while.
Have you read Valley of the Dolls? What did you think of it?