Virago publisher, Lennie Goodings, shares her first experience of reading Jacqueline Susann’s multi-million best-selling book, Valley of the Dolls.
I was 14 years old; a small-town, naïve Canadian girl. One of my friend’s parents had filled their small backyard with a new swimming pool and she invited a few of us over. We walked through their air-conditioned bungalow, collected frosty bottles of Coca-Cola from the refrigerator which, I noticed, seemed to hold little more than gin and cartons of Rothmans cigarettes, and slipped through the sliding glass doors to the sun. Hockney-blue turquoise water shimmered in the heat, surrounded by white tiles almost too hot for bare feet.
Indolently, we lolled in and out of the water, not even bothering to swim. We wore little bikinis; our bodies were coated in glistening oil and our hair soaked in lemon juice: we were seeking tanned skin and the blondest hair. It was towards the end of the 1960s but, honestly, what did we know? Nothing. But we were eager, on the cusp … The exotic, yellow-edged novel was by the poolside, left by my friend’s mother. Swollen with heat and water, emblazoned in big, raised letters: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. We fell on it. And stepped into another world. I hardly remember the stories or the characters, but I remember the heat, the careless glamour, the abandonment, the pills, the friendships, the handling of men – the handling of women! – the sex. The sex.
The girl who started that book wasn’t the same one who finished it.