Sally Jay Gorce tried and failed to run away several times in her teens, until her rich, understanding and partly-wise uncle promised her that if she finished college (that’s university, in non-US English) he would allow her two years to do whatever she pleases, totally funded by him. The only condition is that she doesn’t contact him during that time. Sally Jay heads for Paris, with the vague ambition to become an actress, and otherwise to go to parties and enjoy her freedom.
I love Sally Jay’s voice. She’s funny and knowing and clever and yet manages to delude herself about the intentions of men she likes. I love the backstory to her living in Paris, and she’s decadent in a way that I find addictive in fictional characters – dying her hair pink and wearing evening dresses in the morning/early afternoon. She can’t resist a party but she loathes the preconceptions other people have about her. She is done with education but wants to be an actress. She never thinks about what she will do when her subsidised freedom ends, and I liked that. I always worry about the future so it was nice to take a holiday inside the mind of someone without those concerns.
The Dud Avocado probably doesn’t seem as feminist to us now as it would have done when it was originally published, but thinking about the stereotype of a Fifties woman and comparing that to Sally Jay makes what she gets up to seem quite shocking! There are a few more overt feminist touches – when Jim assumes that Sally Jay can cook just because she’s a woman, I laughed. It’s a ridiculous notion, but one that was probably quite prevalent in the fifties.
The story comes to rather a sudden halt, and if you prefer novels to have an obvious beginning, middle, and end (no criticism intended – I generally do), you might feel disappointed by the ending. However, as a fictionalised memoir, there never really is a strong, clear, plotline, so it’s easier to forgive than it might be for a novel that was purely fiction, though I still felt that the narrator’s life gets tidied up a bit too neatly.
I’m not sure how this book found its way onto my TBR. I think Sarra Manning might have mentioned it at some point. Maybe in the back of Nobody’s Girl. I don’t have a copy handy to check. In any case, I’m glad it did and I’ll definitely be giving Elaine Dundy‘s other novels and autobiography a go!
The Dud Avocado was included in the Virago Modern Classics Designer Collection, and I’m quite tempted to get this fabric-covered hardback edition, if just because it would look so nice next to my copy of The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter…