88. Peyton Place, Grace Metalious (1956)

Peyton Place has become a byword for steamy sordid scandal behind the picket fences and net curtains of New Hampshire, and while the salacious content (illegitimacy, child abuse, suicide, general shagging) is a big part of the appeal, there’s a lot more to the book than that. It’s a cliche to say that ‘the town its very self is a character in the novel’, but certainly Metalious writes about community in a very powerful way, juggling multiple narratives and deploying secondary characters with a Dickensian skill. I think it also deserves to be taken seriously as a feminist novel, because it portrays its two heroines, Allison and Selena, as intelligent women with complex emotional and sexual needs struggling to shake off the yoke of male oppression. Okay, they never break out of the stifling class system of Peyton Place, but they have a damn good go and living their own lives within it. It’s also extremely entertaining, and you’ve got to love any book that sells 60,000 copies in its first ten days.

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