The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

A quick rundown… Sally Jay is off to Paris to have her freedom, meet new people and try new things. She certainly gets more than she bargained for.

Strengths: Sally Jay is amusing, as are some of the scrapes she gets into.

Weaknesses: Part One dragged a lot for me.

Why I read it: Attracted by the pretty Virago Modern Classic hardback design.

Pages: 321

Published: 1958 (this edition 2011)

Publisher: Virago Press

Setting: France (mainly Paris)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I am a complete sucker for a beautifully bound book. How could I resist a Virago Modern Classic with such a gorgeous hardback cover? I felt rather retro and special reading this small sized book, set mainly in 1950s Paris. Sally Jay Gorce (what a wonderful name) has struck a deal with her rich uncle – to be financially supported for two years while she sees the world and, oh, does she see it!

Sally Jay comes across as rather empty-headed at first as her days revolve around men, drinking, dancing and sex. There’s a little acting in there too at first. As Sally Jay’s relationships become more tangled, things start to get a bit more interesting. I would suggest persevering through Part One, as the pace and themes pick up greatly in the latter parts.

Sally Jay’s talent for losing things and getting entangled with a strange lot come to the fore later in the book. It’s at this time that you realise you’re no longer reading a tale about a silly young girl entertaining herself in Paris, but a girl who is getting into something more sinister. It was this part I enjoyed the most, as Sally Jay has to use her mettle to escape without putting her foot in it any further!

The ending is somewhat surprising (random characters disappear and reappear all the time in The Dud Avocado) but surprisingly, traditional. Sally Jay prides herself on being avant-garde – no better seen than in the conversations with the vapid Judy – why did she settle? I’ll leave you to read that in Sally Jay’s own words.

The title of The Dud Avocado refers to Sally Jay herself – she realises that sometimes she makes silly choices, but she’s kind of mysterious and exotic, like an avocado seemed back then. This is part of what makes Sally Jay such a likeable character despite all the scrapes she finds herself in! Her self-depreciating humour often made me smile.

Funny and wry, a lot of the observations Dundy makes are still relevant today. I loved the part about the types of tourists! It’s fun and frothy on the surface, but much darker towards the end. I was pleasantly surprised to read how modern the book felt.


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