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Peyton Place
Pan, London, 1966
(price: 3/6; 384 pages)
(© 1957)

Teeming with incident and vitality, this big, richly diverse novel of American small town life truly presents the characters in the full dimension of their lives - their corruptions and kindnesses, their high hopes and innermost secrets.

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Return to Peyton Place
Pan, London, 1965
(price: 3/6; 288 pages)
(© 1960)

The scorching sequel to her all-time bestseller discloses the further shocking events in the lives of the most controversial characters in American fiction.

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The Tight White Collar
Pan, London, 1966
(price: 3/6; 240 pages)
(© 1961)

Her explosive novel that reveals the passions, the guilts and the fears which boil beneath the seemingly calm and respectable surface of the smug New England town, Cooper Station.

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No Adam In Eden
Pan, London, 1966
(price: 3/6; 288 pages)
(© 1963)

Her riveting novel of four generations of evil women, of the strange and consuming power of sexual blackmail through which they each in turn destroyed their men.

'Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases...'

What a fantastic opening to a novel that is. Sounds a bit like Swiss Toni from The Fast Show, I grant you, but still a corker. In case you don't recognize them, they're the first words of Peyton Place, a book that was originally published in 1957, and within a couple of years had reportedly overtaken Gone With The Wind as the biggest-selling work of fiction ever. (By 1980 it had sold 12 million in America.) The copy shown here came out in 1966 as the 17th British paperback edition and was doing pretty well over here as well, already boasting 1.25 UK million sales. The phenomenal success of the book, movie and TV series spawned a sequel and two further novels cut from the same cloth.

I don't know whether anyone still reads these books, but they're all easily available in charity shops and they're highly recommended. At the most straightforward level, they make for perfect melodrama - great sprawling soap sagas set in small towns in New England, where unrequited passion and thwarted lust fester in every family, where deep deposits of guilt and fear are barely covered by the veneer of respectability and where every cupboard comes complete with a fitted skeleton.

Alternatively, it's perfectly possible to see these books in a proto-feminist light, with strong female characters striving to exist as individuals in their own right without being dependent on men.

Whatever, I'd happily argue that Metalious was a serious and accomplished novelist. Her early death in 1964 meant that she only left these four books, but she was a proper writer, and she exhibited a panoply of problems that would have made her widely celebrated if she had been a man: she was married twice, became a grandmother at 37, fought all her life against the moralising mainstream, and died at the age of 40 as a result of a serious drinking habit.

Of the four novels Return to Peyton Place is the weakest link, giving the impression of having been written to order as a cash-in on a cash-cow, but even that is worth your attention - by the time you get to the end of Peyton Place, you'll be so absorbed by it all that you'll leap on the idea of there being another whole book of the stuff, even if it's not quite as strong. Metalious' own favourite is said to have been The Tight White Collar, but I have a very soft spot for No Adam In Eden as well...

Oh hell, if you read one, you'll want to read them all. And then, in the absence of any more, you'll want to read Emily Toth's 1981 biography Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious, the book that began the process of reclaiming the woman's reputation.

Ms Metalious
Our Gracie


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