Title: The Dud Avocado
Author: Elaine Dundy
Rating: 4 out of 5
It’s 1958 and Sally Jay Gorce, hair “dyed a marvelous shade of pale red so popular with Parisian tarts”, is an aspiring actress in her early 20’s and living in Paris courtesy of her rich Uncle Roger who, after one too many runaway attempts as a teenager, told her he would pay her way for two years once she had finished college so she could have the adventures she dreamt of having.
“I just want to eat about a hundred million oysters and two tons of caviar and go swimming naked in champagne…”
Dying her hair is just one of the many ways she has embraced the Parisian way of life; she hangs out with artists, stays up late drinking absinthe and has become the lover of an Italian diplomat (not his mistress, he already has one of those). From pretty much page one of the book, her life is disorganised and chaotic; when we meet her, she is in an evening gown in the middle of the day as she slept late and missed picking up her clothes at the dry cleaners.
“That’s the story of my life. Someone’s behavior strikes me as a bit odd and the next thing I know all hell breaks loose.”
It’s hard to describe the plot for The Dud Avocado because there isn’t much of a one thanks to how wonderfully chaotic, unpredictable, and flighty Sally Jay is. An accidental meeting with fellow American Larry sees her instantly falling in love with him and out of love with her diplomat for example. Then, after being offered a role in one of Larry’s plays, she becomes a minor hit and starts to do a bit of acting. That’s when she isn’t being an artists muse, bombarding the American Embassy with letters because she’s lost her passport or abandoning her boyfriend to disappear to the South of France for the fun of it.
“I only did it because it seemed to be the glamorous thing to do at the time. It was my ideal of glamour.”
Because the book is cleverly written, smart and funny and Sally Jay so clueless but well meaning you can’t help but like her, this lack of a solid storyline didn’t bother me at all. I found myself reading eagerly and turning the pages quickly. In fact, the least satisfying part of the book for me, are the final chapters, which give Sally Jay an almost fairy tale ending and attempt to pull everything together – they just feel a little tacked on. This slight disappointment wouldn’t stop me recommending this book though because it still feels fresh and modern and, if I remember back to my 20 year old self and what I wanted to do, see, and be, entirely relateable (though I went jet black with my hair, not red!).
“It’s just that I know the world is so wide and full of people and exciting things that I just go crazy every day stuck in these institutions. I mean if I don’t get started soon, how will I get the chance to sharpen my wits? It takes lots of training. You have to start very young.”