Roman à clef

My friend Stephanie asked yesterday if I had ever read “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann. I had not, but had heard of it and know that it is mentioned quite a lot in various cultural references. I decided to do some research and found that it is the first example of roman à clef by a female author to reach this kind of sales number.

What is this roman a clef? Quite interesting! The term is French for novel with a key, is a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the “key” is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction.

So, some literary examples would be:

Postcards from the Edge (1987) by Carrie Fisher describes her substance abuse and often-strained relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Primary Colors (1996) about Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, was published anonymously and later confirmed to have been written by Joe Klein.

The Devil Wears Prada (2003) about a woman constantly bullied by her boss while working as an assistant at a fashion magazine. Although author Lauren Weisberger worked as an assistant at Vogue magazine, she denies that the book’s antagonist, Miranda Priestly, is modeled after the magazine’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.


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