Review: Scandalous Women

In her juicy 13th historical novel, Scandalous Women, Gill Paul (A Beautiful Rival) delves into the lives of bestselling authors Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Susann, both of whom received scathing criticism for writing frankly about sex and celebrating women's pleasure. Paul explores the highs and lows of both authors' careers, and weaves their stories together via Nancy White, a fictional editor who introduces them to each other.

Scandalous Women opens in 1965, as Jacqueline awaits news about the manuscript for her debut novel, Valley of the Dolls. Paul highlights Jacqueline's supportive relationship with her husband, Irving; her affection for her pampered poodle, Josephine; and her constant worry for her son with autism. Paul makes no secret of the fact that Jacqueline herself used the pills she wrote about in Valley of the Dolls, including "uppers" such as "dexies" (Dexedrine) and depressants such as sleeping pills, to cope with medical issues, emotional stress, and the pressures of fame.

Meanwhile, across the pond, young mother Jackie Collins is struggling with her husband's manic depression and its effects on their family life. Paul chronicles the end of their marriage, Jackie's subsequent decision to try writing fiction, and the success of her first novel, The World Is Full of Married Men. Paul shifts between the two authors' perspectives and that of Nancy, a naïve young Smith graduate who harbors ambitions for a publishing career. Nancy, stuck doing menial tasks for the condescending male editors at publishing house Bernard Geis, urges her superiors to publish Valley of the Dolls and is later responsible for bringing Jackie's books to the U.S. Jacqueline takes Nancy under her wing, giving her fashion and romantic advice, but also modeling for her a new kind of womanhood: bold, intelligent, and unafraid of female desire both in and out of the bedroom.

Although Paul spends considerable time on the sexist backlash both authors received after publishing their novels, she emphasizes her three protagonists' chutzpah, courage, and plain old grit. Despite cruel criticism from the male media machine, both women sold millions of books to a readership that hungered for their stories. Both Jackie and Jacqueline deal with illness and other personal issues as they continue to write racy, riveting bestsellers, and Nancy must navigate a delicate family situation as well as her complicated romantic life. But all three women, like the two authors' protagonists, ultimately believe they have a right to create their own lives and live them without apology. Scandalous Women raises a double-strength martini--with a twist--to their efforts to do just that. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Shelf Talker: Gill Paul's juicy 13th novel dishes on the lives of provocative novelists Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Susann, and imagines the friendship they might have had.

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