Before Jackie Collins, Candace Bushnell and Lena Dunham, Jacqueline Susann held the world rapt with her tales of the private passions of Hollywood starlets, high-powered industrialists and the jet-set.
Valley of the Dolls took the world by storm when it was first published, fifty years ago. Never had a book been so frank about sex, drugs and show business. It is often sited as the bestselling novel of all time.
Dolls – red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight. For Anne, Neely and Jennifer, it doesn’t matter, as long as the pill bottle is within easy reach. These three beautiful women become best friends when they are young and in New York, struggling to make their names in the entertainment industry. Only when they reach the peak of their careers do they find there’s nowhere left to go but down – to the Valley of the Dolls.
The girls – Rube, Lily and Sylvie – work at McCrindle’s sweet factory during the week and on Saturday they go up the Junction in their clattering stilettos, think about new frocks on H.P., drink tea in the cafe, and talk about their boyfriends. In these uninhibited, spirited vignettes of young women’s lives in the shabby parts of South London in the sixties, money is scarce and enjoyment to be grabbed while it can.
Vivid, bawdy and bitter. Barker’s talent for gently sifting through the hidden depths of the human psyche is awesome’ – The Times
Pat Barker’s first novel shows the women of Union Street, young and old, meeting the harsh challeges of poverty and survival in a precarious world.
There’s Kelly, at eleven, neglected and independent, dealing with a squalid rape; Dinah, knocking on sixty and still on the game; Joanne, not yet twenty, not yet married, and already pregnant. Old Alice is welcoming her impending death whilst Muriel helplessly watches the decline of her stoical husband.
And linking them all, watching over them all, mother to half the street, is fiery, indomitable Iris.
Grania and Sylvia Fox live in the Georgian house of Aragon, with their mother, their Aunt Pidgie and Nan O’Neill, the family nurse. Grania is conducting a secret affair with Nan’s son, Foley, a wily horse-breeder, whilst Sylvia who is ‘pretty in the right and accepted way’ falls for the charms of Captain Purvis. Attending Aragon’s strawberry teas, the British Army Officers can almost forget the reason for their presence in Ireland. But the days of dignified calm at Aragon are numbered, for Foley is a member of Sinn Fein.
A portrait of 1920s New York society. 7.30 Mental uplift. 7.45 Breakfast. 8 Psychoanalysis. 8.15 See cook . And so begins another day in the elegant, langorous world of the Manford family around whom this ironic and amusing study of a family drama revolves.
Angel, formidable hostess, social charmer and mother par excellence, confidently awaits the return of her little boy from the trials of war. She could not anticipate that the teenager who went away will return a grown man – bronzed and world-weary – a sophisticated American widow on his arm. Nor could she anticpate that her irrepressible daughter Slaney will similarly throw herself into romance (without asking her advice) and even her niece Tiddley will show an unexpected determination in getting on with her life. Faced with domestic insurrection on a grand scale, Angel will have to sharpen her wits to maintain her tyranny.
A deeply rewarding and beautiful novel’ Hilary Mantel, Guardian
Life in England seems transitory for Grace Cleave as the pull of her native New Zealand grows stronger. She begins to feel increasingly like a migratory bird. Grace longs to find her own place in the world, if only she can decide where that is. But first she must learn to feel comfortable in her own skin, feathers and all.
Written in 1963, Janet Frame considered this novel too personal to be published in her lifetime.
‘In this deeply personal novel of exile and loneliness, Janet Frame proves the master of nostalgia, beauty and loss. Frame is, and will remain, divine’ Alice Sebold
‘Exceptional . . . comic, melancholy and piercingly observant’ Sunday Telegraph
With the ferocity of a mother tiger defending her cubs, fourteen-year-old Emmie Bean watches over her household: her amiable drunken father, her gaunt, evangelical old grandmother, her beautiful, wayward sister Alice and most precious of all, eight-year-old Oliver, who has the countenance of an angel and the ethical sense of a cobra. But with the arrival of new neighbours, the outside world intrudes into the isolated privacy of family life and Emmie’s kingdom is no longer secure. Combining the guile of a young child with the desperation of adolescence, Emmie fights to stave off the changes- and the revelations- that growing up necessarily brings. Powerful, heart-rending, but never sentimental, Tortoise by Candlelight is a captivating excursion into the landscape of youth.
Born into an affluent family, Bonnie, Tor and Ula have been left to the feckless embrace of the cook and their nanny. Their father is dead. Their glamorous mother is away entertaining the troops.
When their infant brother falls ill and dies, the household disintegrates. In Tin Toys, Ula escapes with Cook, barely out of girlhood herself, and lands at the mansion of an enigmatic matriarch. In Unicorn Sisters, the three sisters are sent to a shabby English boarding school where the pupils are pitted against an anarchic gang of East End evacuees. A Bubble Garden finds the girls in Ireland, where they scrape a life in a crumbling, once-grand farmhouse, while their mother and her new husband are mired in their private traumas. A uniquely compelling and powerful coming-of-age classic.
Durraghglass is a beautiful mansion in Southern Ireland, now crumbling in neglect. The time is the present – a present that churns with the bizarre passions of its owners’ past. The Swifts – three sisters of marked eccentricity, defiantly christened April, May and Baby June, and their only brother, one-eyed Jasper – have little in common, save vivid memories of darling Mummy, and a long lost youth peculiarly prone to acts of treachery.
Into their world comes Cousin Leda from Vienna, a visitor from the past, blind but beguiling – a thrilling guest. But within days, the lifestyle of the Swifts has been dramatically overturned – and desires, dormant for so long, flame fierce and bright as ever.
Doone Penny is a child with a gift – he was born to dance. But though others recognise his talent, there is little encouragement from his family. His mother preens over his pretty sister, Crystal, also a dancer, but fiercely competitive and vain. Doone’s father would never allow a son of his to have ballet lessons, and his brothers think he’s a sissy.
But Doone has passion and ambition beyond his years, and knows he can succeed, if only he is given the chance. If he can make it into Queen’s Chase, Her Majesty’s Junior Ballet School, he’ll show them all . ..
This hugely enjoyable novel, a scandalous success in 1907, is even today, startling for its enthusiastic depiction of female sensuality. One of Virago’s trio of turn-of-the-century erotic best-sellers, with E M Hull’s The Sheik and Ethel M Dell’s The Way of an Eagle, it shows Paul Verdayne, the ‘perfect young English animal’, fascinated by a mysterious beauty at his Swiss hotel. Surrounded by tuberoses and tigerskins, ‘the Lady’ teaches him the arts of love, and gives him three weeks of tempestuous passion. Then, weeping, she renounces him and disappears, and amid high drama Paul finally discovers her august and tragic secret…