Sidney Sheldon is an author who I was always aware of, but never really thought to read. Philistine that I am, I can thank the good ol’ TV for turning me on to this book: It was mentioned in HBO’s The Night Of as one of the most popular books among Rikers inmates, “for obvious reasons.” Being familiar neither with this book nor jail, my curiosity was piqued.
The book alternates between two narrative viewpoints. The first is Noelle Page, the most beautiful girl in the world, who was born in a small French fishing village but who makes her way to Paris and eventually becomes famous. She learned early on how to manipulate men with her beauty, and achieves her success essentially by sleeping her way to the top. What makes her an interesting case is that she isn’t motivated by fame, fortune, or success itself; she wants revenge against the first man she ever loved for leaving her. She figures by becoming the most famous face in Europe, she’ll be impossible for him to ignore.
The second protagonist is Catherine Alexander, bookish and naive and American, who is also super attractive but probably wears glasses like Rachel Leigh Cook’s character in She’s All That and so is a virgin, like, forever. Her aloofness impresses American war hero Larry Douglas, who likes that, unlike every other woman in the world, Catherine is unimpressed by his bravado and doesn’t immediately throw herself at him. Of course he eventually seduces her and they get married.
Guess who the common denominator might be between the two women. Go on, guess.
The Other Side of Midnight is an engrossing, pulpy read that is tremendously fun, particularly if one doesn’t care about or can ignore the hilariously breezy vintage sexism. The Madonna/whore dichotomy is in full effect here, with the sexy, experienced Noelle in full femme-fatale drag splendor facing off against poor Catherine, who just thought it was swell to feel wanted sometimes. Both women are ultimately defined by their relationships with men, particularly the sexual relationships (or lack thereof,) and they’re given the male gaze treatment, so we’re privy to the fact that both have firm breasts and long shapely legs. Because they’re not worth reading about if they’re not attractive, probably. But the book was published in 1973, so, you know, it’s more or less expected.
For all of that, though, the way the plot unwinds is extremely entertaining, and it’s written almost with the streamlined style of a screenplay. The scene is set, the characters perform the scenes, and the scenes keep the story moving right along. It’s not what I would call sophisticated, but it’s very effective storytelling.
I also totally get now why it’s referenced in The Night Of, but to elaborate would spoil the ending. You’ll just have to read and watch for yourself!