Friday, 24 June 2016

Friday Memes and 'Beauty is a Wound' by Eka Kurniawan

This Friday I'm sharing a novel I started reading earlier this week and I am really, truly enjoying it. I'm talking about Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. I knew I wanted to read it the moment I read the blurb. So now I'm sharing some bits with you in the hope to make you equally as fascinated with Beauty is a Wound. Thanks to Netgalley and Pushking Press for providing me with a copy of this book.

THERE'S NO CURSE MORE TERRIBLE THAN TO GIVE BIRTH TO A PRETTY FEMALE IN A WORLD OF MEN AS NASTY AS DOGS IN HEAT
One stormswept afternoon, after twenty-one years of being dead, the beautiful Indonesian prostitute Dewi Ayu rises from her grave to avenge a curse placed on her family. Amidst the orange groves and starfruit trees, her children and grandchildren have been living out lives of violence, incest, murder, madness and heartbreak. They are creatures of breathtaking beauty - all but one of them, whose ugliness is unparalleled. And Beauty is her name.
Set in the mythical Indonesian town of Halimunda, Beauty is a Wound is a bawdy, epic tale of fearsome women and weak-willed men, communist ghosts and vengeful spirits, chaste princesses and ruthless bandits. It is also a satirical portrait of Indonesia's painful past, journeying through almost a century of brutality, from Dutch colonialism and Japanese occupation to revolution, independence and dictatorship. Weaving together history with local legend, Eka Kurniawan spins a fantastical masterpiece in which darkness and light dance hand in hand.
Doesn't that sound simply fascinating and hilarious and beautiful all at the same time? Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilian over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively.

Book Beginnings:
'One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dad for twenty-one years. A shepherd boy, awakened from his nap under a frangipani tree, peed in his shorts and screamed, and his four sheep ran haphazardly in between stones and wooden grave markers as if a tiger had been throw in into their midst.' 1%
I simply absolutely love Kurniawan's tone. There are so many moments in this novel where I've been laughing out loud. The novel describes terrible things with a tone that allows the gravitas of the situation to sink in while also allowing the reader to have fun.


Friday 56:
'One night, after they had been married for a month, Maya Dewi asked him, "May I go back to school?" 
The question was surprising. Of course, she was still of school age, and every girl of twelve belonged in school from morning until afternoon. But she was also somebody's wife and he had never heard of a married woman sitting on a school bench.' 56%
Again, this is both a hilarious teaser in the sense that it's written so laconically that you can't help but snigger. On the other hand it's dealing with something quite serious topics such as child marriages and deprivation of education. I love reads that are both challenging and fun.


So, what do you think about Beauty is a Wound? Sound like your kind of read?

Review: 'Figures of Catastrophe: The Condition of Culture Novel' by Francis Mulhern

What I discovered during my Undergraduate was that I absolutely loved reading books about books. To have someone dig deeply into a genre or a tradition of books etc. is just fascinating so when I saw Figures of Catastrophe focusing on the 'condition of culture' novel which I hardly know anything about, I knew I wanted to give it a try. Thanks to Verso Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 26/01/2016
Publisher: Verso Books
A bold new vision of the modern English novel
The leading critic Francis Mulhern uncovers a hidden history in the English novel and demonstrates its intimate, formative association with the course of the British labor movement, from its rise in the early twentieth century to the years of decline from the 1980s onwards. In this striking reconstruction, culture emerges as a stake in social conflict, above all that of classes; the narrative evaluations of culture's ends—the aspirations and destinies of those whose lives are the matter of its fictions—grow steadily darker as time passes. Readings of classic and contemporary novelists from Hardy and Forster to Amis, Kureishi and Smith, among others, illuminate the forms and narrative logics of the genre that Mulhern terms the “condition of culture novel,” and places it in international context.
Academic books can be difficult to review because often they are rather specialized and analytical in nature. Therefore, perhaps a short introduction to both Mulhern and the matter of his book. By nature and trade, Francis Mulhern is a leftist, or to be more precise, Marxist literary critic, combining literary criticism with keen attention to class struggle. His The Moment of Scrutiny was required reading for those who wanted to follow in F.R. Leavis' footsteps. In this book, Figures of Catastrophe, Mulhern takes to class a range of novels he considers to form a neglected genre, the 'condition of culture' novels. According to Mulhern these novels discuss the worth of 'high culture' and its relevance and importance to all the different classes of British society.

Mulhern discusses 14 novels in his book, ranging from the last decade of the 19th century into the 21st century. Having such a wide period of time to choose from, the eventual selection of novels may feel a bit at random but all, in the end, serve Mulhern's purpose. Starting with Jude the Obscure, Mulhern highlights books in which culture  and teaching become a battleground, where classes clash with each other. In the end, Figures of Catastrophe does lead to catastrophe, to the conclusion that seemingly education and culture are not meant for the lower classes. There isn't a lot of optimism on offer in this book, but Mulhern makes some fascinating observations about the novels he discusses and how (political) reality and literature go hand in hand, one perhaps informing the other.

During my bacherlor's degree in English Literature I found myself occasionally troubled by critics with a distinct political slant, such as F.R. Leavis with whom I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with. My problem is that political ideology at times equated to already having your answer before you've properly asked the question. In the case of Figures of Catastrophe it at times feels like Mulhern simply dismisses all those things that don't fit into his argument or forcefully makes them fit. But partially this ability to twist and turn is also part of what makes a good literary critic. Mulhern's writing is generally very compelling, leading the reader along easily, although he does write very academically. This doesn't make it the most accessible of academic texts, especially for those who simply wanted to read something interesting about their favourite novel.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I decided to give Figures of Catastrophe 3 Universes because it is such a highly specialized subject. Not everyone is going to find this book interesting, or even think the subject is worthy of a novel. For those who are interested in taking a deep dive into some Marxist literary criticism however, I wholeheartedly recommend this novel.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review: 'The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction' by M.A. Orthofer

I've got another interesting Columbia University Press read for you! One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to read more world fiction, open myself up to more translated works. But it can be quite hard to get a good look at international lit and especially to understand how literature has developed in different countries and in different languages. So when I saw Orthofer's The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction up on Netgalley I knew that it might give me the answers I needed. I was also impressed with how long its title was. Thanks to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/04/2016
Publication: Columbia University Press

For more than a decade, the Complete Review has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site's content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world's literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels. 
What sets this guide apart is its critical selection of titles that define the arc of a nation's literary development, paired with lively summaries that convey both the enjoyment and significance of each work. Arranged by region, country, and language, entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and founder of the Complete Review, this reference will benefit from an actively maintained companion site featuring additional links and resources and new reviews as contemporary works are published. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.
M. A. Orthofer is the founder, managing editor, and lead contributor to the Complete Review and its blog The Literary Saloon. Launched in 1999, the Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
The Complete Review Guide started as a website, which tries to bring the reader all the info and objective opinion they might need in regard to books both old and new. I'll solely be reviewing the book though, so hop by the website if you want to have a look.

As Orthofer says in his introduction, 'great literature and great books know no borders'. Or at least, it shouldn't. At the heart of The Complete Review Guide is international and translated fiction, the hundreds and thousands of books written and published all over the world. The main purpose of The Complete Review Guide is as a reference book, which means it's not exactly a cover-to-cover read. Rather, it is incredibly useful to dip into when either looking for information on a specific author or want a general idea of the development of literature in a specific region or country. One of the let downs of The Complete Review Guide, however, is that it focuses mainly on thrillers and mysteries, considerably neglecting genres such as Fantasy and Romance. Although it is understandable that you can't discuss every genre in a single book, it would have been good to see a bit more variation. I would say it is very important to read the Introduction, just to get a sense of what it is this book is trying to achieve. It also explains how The Complete Review Guide is split geographically, first into continents and then into smaller sections dedicated either to general areas or specific countries. Although Orthofer accepts it is difficult to tie a novel down to a specific region sometimes, but the categorisation he ends up with works for the reader.

Orthofer's writing is what makes reading The Complete Review Guide not just informative but also fun. This book is not just a dull and dry list of books, authors and translators, it gives its reader a genuine idea of literary tradition and the development of translation. Whether it is discussing the influence of propaganda on literature written in the Soviet Union, the rise of women writers in India or how colonial languages influenced fiction written in colonised countries, Orthofer goes out of his way to contextualise international literature for those who may not have any experience with it. His writing isn't filled with academic lingo or with elitist opinions about literature, but rather his writing is very friendly and direct. If you're like me and you enjoy reading reference books, The Complete Review Guide will be like sitting back and having a good friend enthusiastically explain world literature to you over a glass of wine.

At danger of sounding even nerdier than usual, the supplements to The Complete Review Guide were very useful, especially the second focusing on Supplemental Resources for those wanting to explore more translated and international fiction. If the book's purpose was to get readers interested in translated fiction, then I can say that The Complete Review Guide is a very successful book! It has taken up a solid spot on my bookshelf and I'm sure it will be frequently used in the near and far future.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

The Complete Review Guide is an incredibly useful reference book for those who want to read internationally. The lay-out is clear, the writing is lucid and the book genuinely does cover the world.

Review: 'The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction' by M.A. Orthofer

I've got another interesting Columbia University Press read for you! One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to read more world fiction, open myself up to more translated works. But it can be quite hard to get a good look at international lit and especially to understand how literature has developed in different countries and in different languages. So when I saw Orthofer's The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction up on Netgalley I knew that it might give me the answers I needed. I was also impressed with how long its title was. Thanks to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/04/2016
Publication: Columbia University Press

For more than a decade, the Complete Review has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site's content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world's literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels. 
What sets this guide apart is its critical selection of titles that define the arc of a nation's literary development, paired with lively summaries that convey both the enjoyment and significance of each work. Arranged by region, country, and language, entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and founder of the Complete Review, this reference will benefit from an actively maintained companion site featuring additional links and resources and new reviews as contemporary works are published. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.
M. A. Orthofer is the founder, managing editor, and lead contributor to the Complete Review and its blog The Literary Saloon. Launched in 1999, the Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
The Complete Review Guide started as a website, which tries to bring the reader all the info and objective opinion they might need in regard to books both old and new. I'll solely be reviewing the book though, so hop by the website if you want to have a look.

As Orthofer says in his introduction, 'great literature and great books know no borders'. Or at least, it shouldn't. At the heart of The Complete Review Guide is international and translated fiction, the hundreds and thousands of books written and published all over the world. The main purpose of The Complete Review Guide is as a reference book, which means it's not exactly a cover-to-cover read. Rather, it is incredibly useful to dip into when either looking for information on a specific author or want a general idea of the development of literature in a specific region or country. One of the let downs of The Complete Review Guide, however, is that it focuses mainly on thrillers and mysteries, considerably neglecting genres such as Fantasy and Romance. Although it is understandable that you can't discuss every genre in a single book, it would have been good to see a bit more variation. I would say it is very important to read the Introduction, just to get a sense of what it is this book is trying to achieve. It also explains how The Complete Review Guide is split geographically, first into continents and then into smaller sections dedicated either to general areas or specific countries. Although Orthofer accepts it is difficult to tie a novel down to a specific region sometimes, but the categorisation he ends up with works for the reader.

Orthofer's writing is what makes reading The Complete Review Guide not just informative but also fun. This book is not just a dull and dry list of books, authors and translators, it gives its reader a genuine idea of literary tradition and the development of translation. Whether it is discussing the influence of propaganda on literature written in the Soviet Union, the rise of women writers in India or how colonial languages influenced fiction written in colonised countries, Orthofer goes out of his way to contextualise international literature for those who may not have any experience with it. His writing isn't filled with academic lingo or with elitist opinions about literature, but rather his writing is very friendly and direct. If you're like me and you enjoy reading reference books, The Complete Review Guide will be like sitting back and having a good friend enthusiastically explain world literature to you over a glass of wine.

At danger of sounding even nerdier than usual, the supplements to The Complete Review Guide were very useful, especially the second focusing on Supplemental Resources for those wanting to explore more translated and international fiction. If the book's purpose was to get readers interested in translated fiction, then I can say that The Complete Review Guide is a very successful book! It has taken up a solid spot on my bookshelf and I'm sure it will be frequently used in the near and far future.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

The Complete Review Guide is an incredibly useful reference book for those who want to read internationally. The lay-out is clear, the writing is lucid and the book genuinely does cover the world.

War and Peace #6: I.v.11 - II.vi.8

We have made it through the first Volume and successfully into the second Volume and the sixth Book! Thank yo so much for sticking with me so far, there's only nine more Books and two Epilogues to go. Unlike with my Les Mis read along, where I knew the basic plot of the story from the musical, I don't know where the story is going to go. I have some general ideas thanks to the unavoidable trailers for the recent BBC adaptation, but there will be plenty of surprises coming up. So far nothing very shocking has happened but I am finally starting to enjoy Tolstoy's writing and the book's pace.



Summary of Chapters:
We started with Pierre, who has unsuccessfully tried to free his Serfs and only made their lives harder, who is visiting Prince Andrew and manages to, at least a little bit, coax him out of his self-imposed exile from the world. Convinced the only way to do no evil is by not interacting with the world, Prince Andrew has retreated to his estate and is building a log cabin. From there we move to Nicholas who, after his embarrassing gambling debacle, returns to his regiment. Tolstoy this time uses Nicholas' time in the army to highlight its hardships. Suffering from a severe lack of provisions, Denisov decides to seize a transport of foods and gets into trouble. However, he is wounded and shipped to a hospital where Nicholas finds him under terrible circumstances. Typhoid has broken out and nothing seems to be possible to help the soldiers' suffering.Nicholas tries to petition the Emperor Alexander at Tilsit, where he is meeting with Napoleon, but only runs into Boris, who is turning into a person I don't trust. He has single-mindedly pursued his climbing in society in a way that makes him look down on everyone else. I don't like him. Nicholas also begins to be disillusioned with life, having gone from soldiers suffering to emperors smiling.

And now we moved into Volume II, which starts with Prince Andrew having to visit Count Rostov. He spots the happy Natasha going about her way and it reawakens a passion for life in him. Andrew decides to return to active life and heads for St. Petersburg to introduce his amendments on a law. In St. Petersburg he reenters the social elite and spontaneously forgets about the grander ambitions in his life. One of the people which leads to this is Speranski, who is an advisor to the Emperor and an overall sleaze, I think. He has something of a superiority complex. We end with Pierre who is discovering that despite men being Freemasons they don't necessarily become better men. He tries to learn more while abroad but his ideas are shot down upon his return. Slightly bitter he is talked into reconciling with Helene. He moves into the attic and is proud of his own forgiving nature.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a sense, now that we've got about a third into the novel, that everyone is growing. About three to four years have passed in these 300-odd pages and there is a sense that everyone has now encountered their first difficulty and has tried or is trying to overcome it. Those who were children at the beginning are growing up, becoming disillusioned with the world, whereas those who started out more cynically are opening themselves up to the world. This is exactly what I love about family sagas or these generational novels, you get a sense of progression and growth. However, you do have to invest some time before you hit this growth.

Perhaps it's because I've reinvested myself in War and Peace, but I am finally starting to see the appeal of it. Although time still passes rather quickly for me, and the enormous cast of characters can be a distraction, I have become invested in some of the characters. I'm fascinated by the historical aspects of the book, the casual appearances of historical figures like Napoleon, the attention to the consequences of warfare. It's not a light or casual read, but it's becoming rewarding.

General Points:

  • This week's section officially warmed my heart to Natasha. Perhaps I had too high expectations of her beforehand, expecting her to be a bit more grown up, but she's now come to the point where I find her interesting and want to know more about her.
  • I think it would be fair to say Tolstoy isn't a big fan of politics and what it does to people. Or at least, the type of court politics which are more about posturing than about actually trying to change or achieve something. So far I think he is showing this in his different stories for Boris, Pierre and Prince Andrew, all of which try to somehow involve themselves in the big game.
  • I wonder if Tolstoy is setting up any kind of romance between Prince Andrew and Natasha or if she is simply a way of getting the former out of his midlife crisis. Because any man that builds a log cabin in his early thirties is surely suffering from an early midlife crisis. I jest, I am actually really intrigued by Prince Andrew's characterisation so far.
Something Extra:
Today we're looking at one of the most interesting historic events in Europe's history: the meeting between Emperor Napoleon and Tsar Alexander in Tilsit, where the two signed the first of the Treaties of Tilsit. The first Franco-Russian treaty was signed on the 7th of July 1807 and pretty much meant the end for the Prussian King. For Napoleon these treaties meant the cementing of his power in Europe and he gained the support of Russia in his continuing struggles with Britain and Sweden. 

What I love about this meeting between Emperors is not only that it is an absolutely historic meeting between two of the most powerful people in the world, but also how they went about being able to meet on neutral ground. In a rush, the French build a raft on the middle of the Neman river which had two tents on it. The Emperors were then ferried to the raft from two opposite sides at the same time, but in order to show his superiority the French raft put on a spurt so Napoleon arrived first and could welcome Alexander. Love nothing as much as petty emperors.

Quotes:
'"I feel that I cannot vanish, since nothing vanishes in this world but that I shall always exist and always have existed."' p.303
This is Pierre trying to convince Prince Andrew that not only is there an afterlife but that life itself is worth living for.  Although he doesn't make a believer out of Prince Andrew he does awaken something in him. I did love this quote, the idea you are a part of this world and always will be. 
'"Do just come and see what a moon! ... Oh, how lovely! Come here... Darling, sweetheart, come here! There, you see? I feel like sitting own on my heels, putting my arms around my knees like this, straining tight, as tight as possible, and flying away! Like this..."' p.331-2
This quote is what made me love Natasha. It genuinely changed my mind about her. There is something about this quote which I can identify with, the desperation for freedom and the love for the night's sky.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: 'Sleeping Giants' by Sylvain Neuvel

I love Fantasy, I love Sci-Fi and I love Speculative Fiction, so nothing was as destined as for me to have an interest in Sleeping Giants. From the moment I saw the blurb I was absolutely intrigued by the idea of the novel but something kept getting in between me and the novel. However, once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. Thanks to Penguin UK and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 21/04/2016
Publisher: Penguin UK - Michael Joseph
11-year-old Rose Franklyn was cycling near her house on her eleventh birthday when the ground disappeared beneath her. When she came to, she was in a deep pit, lying in the palm of a giant metallic hand. 
Seventeen years later, Dr Franklyn is leading a top-secret scientific investigation into the bizarre artefact she had unwittingly discovered all those years ago. It is clear to Rose and her team that the hand is not only ancient but almost certainly not of this world. A search begins for the rest of this vast creation, perhaps the most perplexing puzzle humanity has ever faced.
The first thing you encounter in this novel is young Rose Franklyn, who, in many ways, stays at the very heart of the novel. She falls into the open palm of a giant metallic hand one day and it forever changes her life, although she doesn't suspect so for another seventeen years. Truly there is nothing more I could say about the plot of the book without ruining some of the novel's suspense. Sleeping Giants is Mystery Sci-Fi at its very best, constantly keeping the reader on their toes and masterfully combining the world we know with the seemingly absurd. Science Fiction often stumbles over the first word of its name, either too focused on making the science work or not caring at all if it works because, hey, it's fiction and no one will care. The science in Science Fiction matters though because it is what allows a novel's plot to transcend the ordinary world. Sleeping Giants finds a great balance between showcasing its science and being fiction by having scientists and exploration at the heart of its plot. Figuring out what the mysterious hand is for both requires science and makes it fun.

The way Sleeping Giants is written is one of its main strengths, aside from its great plot. Neuvel experiments with fiction, with how one can write a linear and chronological story, and it is beautiful. What we get to read are interview transcripts of the characters, their journals, their work reports, etc., which allows Neuvel to change not only how a reader normally discovers the plot but also how a reader gets to know characters. We are hardly ever 'in the moment' with the characters but find out about things afterwards, moving between characters, mediums, countries and events at a rapid pace. And oh does it work! As a reader you are always on edge, always desperate to know more. Reading Sleeping Giants really is something else. Although arguably there is a whole host of main characters, the true narrator and protagonist is a shadowy man, working from the peripheries of the novel to make it all happen. He is fascinating and he is a mystery to seemingly everyone. Neuvel, however, manages to make a character without a name and apparently without a background one of the best characters in the book. It's hard to explain exactly how well Neuvel's approach to storytelling works because

Neuvel's writing throughout the novel is great. Switching between different characters and different mediums of writing (interviews, reports, etc.) could lead to everything and everyone sounding exactly the same and yet each character feels like an individual. Also, I couldn't help but absolutely love the variety of female characters in this novel. They are great! Neuvel makes you care for them and it is the first time in a long time that a Sci-Fi novel genuinely made me wish for the stars. The ending of Sleeping Giants is a twists readers won't see coming, a final little push to show exactly how creative Neuvel is with his story. I only just found out that Sleeping Giants is actually the first book in a series, the Themis Files, the second of which comes out in 2017. Even without knowing there is a sequel the ending is brilliant, but now Neuvel has left the reader hanging off the proverbial cliff in a great way. Sleeping Giants is a whole story, in the sense that it doesn't feel as if anything has been left out in order to make the reader read the next book, and can be read on its own. You'll probably be as desperate for the sequel as me though, after reading it.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

Reading Sleeping Giants is an experience which I wouldn't trade for anything. Neuvel's novel not only successfully experiments with how to tell a story, it also tells one hell of a story. I will not only be rereading Sleeping Giants, I will also be counting down the minutes to the sequel. I'd recommend this to fans of Sci-Fi, Mystery and experimental writing.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Review + Blog tour: 'Valley of the Dolls' by Jacqueline Susann

Valley of the Dolls 50th Anniversary EditionI am incredibly exited to be a part of Virago's blog tour for the 50th Anniversary of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susan, for which they released a new paperback copy. Valley of the Dolls was the kind of modern classic which I knew off but never had a chance to read. And there were the questions swirling around about whether I could really relate to a 50 year old book about starlets. But, despite its age, I immediately fell under the charm of Susan's novel. Thanks to Virago for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Original pub. Date: 1966
Publisher: Virago
The 50th Anniversary Edition of Jacqueline Susann's All-Time Pop-Culture Classic
At a time when women were destined to become housewives, Jacqueline Susann let us dream. 
Anne, Neely, and Jennifer become best friends as struggling young women in New York City trying to make their mark. Eventually, they climb their way to the top of the entertainment industry only to find that there’s no place left to go but down, into the Valley of the Dolls.

Valley of the Dolls was an overnight success when it was published in 1966, being one of the first novels written by a woman which depicted the lives of the rich and famous in fiction. There is something fascinating about how honestly Susann writes this novel and it must have been revolutionising in the 60s. Susann hides nothing, none of the ugly, none of the bad, and also the few moments of incandescent happiness everyone has. There are discussions of orgasms, mental health, drug use, periods, aging, almost everything one could think of. What I loved about Valley of the Dolls is that the women in this novel feel real. Initially I thought that I would really feel the 50 year gap between the novel and me, yet from the first page I could empathise and even identify with Anne's desire for freedom, Neely's desire for validation, and Jennifer's bitter quest to be loved for more than her body.

The novel is split into the stories of three different women, Anne, Neely and Jennifer. All three find their way to New York where they all seem to realise their dreams: they make it! Most stories end there, after the "happy ending" has been achieved, but this is where Valley of the Dolls really gets in swing. Susann allows her readers into the darker side of life, the intense doubts that haunt people throughout their life. After I finished Valley of the Dolls I wondered what it was truly about, what message, if any, we could be drawing from Susann's novel. In the end what I settled on is that Valley of the Dolls is all about the things people do for 'love': the love for others, the love for life, love of self, etc. No one in this book could necessarily be defined as "good", some characters are cold, others greedy, some plain desperate, and yet Susann describes it in such a way that we can see ourselves in their desperation. For women in the 60s it must have been a release to have an internal struggle written down, even if hyperbolically.

Displaying SusannJacqueline.jpg
Displaying SusannJacqueline.jpg
This novel paved the way for many more novels which imitate it but do not reach its heights. Susann describes the life of celebrity with an ease and slight disinterest that makes it all the more interesting. It's the 50s, everyone is lounging around smoking, drinking club sodas, wearing mink furs and popping pills. Susan takes advantage of our obsession with the rich and famous, with the glitz and glamour, to slip in some hard cold story lines. On the one hand you can identify with the characters as a 21st century woman, with their desire to validate themselves, their drive to make it. But they also are products of their environment and their society. The desire to settle down, to "find a man to live for" feels disingenuous to us now, as if it would signify a failure. Desperation never looks attractive, and yet everyone is desperate for love. Does this sound like high-brow literature? I don't know. But does it sound exactly like the plot of The Great Gatsby? Yes. Now what does the difference in reception tell you about how we perceive literature?

There are some absolute gems in this book, quotes which I've underlined and which simply ring true, no matter the strange situations they arose out of. One is below:
“Never let anyone shame you into doing anything you don't choose to do. Keep your identity.”  
Susann's writing is incredibly entertaining and keeps you glued to the page. There is a real distinction between Anne, Neely and Jennifer's voices and their journeys. Despite the 'celebrity column on a good day'-feel to the novel, there is also some genuine depth in Susann's brutal analysis of what humans do for love. The popping of the dolls to calm the nerves, to allow for sleep, to drown out the world, to not have to worry, to make it feel like that endless climb and struggle to the top was worth it, it drives the message home. You're probably not going to walk away from Valley of the Dolls feeling happy and refreshed, but you'll definitely not be forgetting about it soon.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved Valley of the Dolls. I raced through the novel, unable to put it down and delighting in the 'dirty secret'-feeling it gave me. But some parts of the novel came dangerously close to the heart. I'd recommend this to everyone who is both up for a wild ride and some hard truths.