I love a potboiler. I almost missed my stop on the train the other morning because I was so engrossed in the melodramatic small-town machinations of Peyton Place. I am always intrigued by those crappy pulp blockbusters that then kind of become classics in their own right.
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
I only recently read this and I was basically ‘shocked of BN1’ over it – even now. Well, shocked and enthralled in equal measure. I can see why it spawned the first-ever soap opera – the characters are fabulous (my favourite was Selena) and the dramas are endless and exhausting. Just as it should be. The author, the fabulously named Grace Metalious, was a soap opera in her own right – as demonstrated by the fact that the marvellous filmmaker John Waters once paid pilgrimage and left a bottle of booze at her graveside.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
One of my favourite books of all time, I must admit. The sad story of Anne, Neely and Jennifer never gets old. I once wrote an excellent ‘Which doll are you?’ quiz for my erstwhile fanzine. I have a mild ongoing obsession with Jacqueline Susann – I would recommend Once Is Not Enough as the best of her (patchy) other works, and most definitely the great biography of her, Lovely Me. (NB – The film version is worth watching only for the beautiful and wonderful Sharon Tate as Jennifer; other than that it bares very little resemblance to the novel and, um, isn’t very good. The 60s cinematic classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has not the slightest connection to the book, but should be watched anyway, just because it’s bonkers, hilarious and cool-looking.
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
This kind of became greater than the sum of its parts, due to the proto-feminist slant on female sexuality (i.e. the dirty bits are frank and brilliant). Which is all for the good, an extra bonus to what is a thoroughly enjoyable bit of fun. Famous for coining the concept of The Zipless F*ck. If you haven’t already read it, surely that’s enough to make you want to do so immediately?
The Best of Everything
This of-the-moment/salacious/cautionary tale about ladies working in publishing is of particular interest to me because I am a lady working in publishing fifty or so years later. It is probably a bit better than a ‘potboiler’, really – it’s sharp and cleverly written in a way similar to The Group by Mary McCarthy. But it’s retro and sexy and fun, with heightened drama that made me genuinely fear for Caroline, April, Gregg and Barbara in a total edge-of-seat fashion. Which is exactly what I want from a potboiler, really.