The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy

“‘Please forgive me, but I’ve never had to change my mind so often at such short notice in my whole life. It’s quite breath-taking. You see, first I thought you wanted my body, then I thought you wanted my love, then my life even, happily-ever-after and all that sort of thing, and now it turns out it is merely my money. Oh, Teddy, darling, thank you, thank you.’ I was practically sobbing.

‘For what?’ he asked patiently.

‘For restoring my cynicism. I was too young to lose it.'”

I can’t remember why, exactly, my friend recommended this to me, but she did, and I am thrilled about it. It is such a charming novel, about an American woman in Paris in the 50s, funded by her uncle. She runs about having affairs, acting, losing things, and getting into general mischief, and it is an absolute delight from beginning to end.

It reminded me of Jean Rhys, particularly Quartet, but by no means as bleak and miserable – perhaps if Rhys had had more money, and Ford Maddox Ford (on whom Heidler in Quartet was based) been less demanding and isolating, her experience might have been more like this. The similarities are superficial, mostly – the ex-pat communities of Montparnasse and Saint Germain, the awful men, the horror of being considered tourists, the difficult dealings with the authorities, hotel living, the spectre of poverty and ruin lurking in every corner – but the air of adventure and uncertainty and naivety is there, too. But whereas Quartet haunts me, The Dud Avocado is much more cheerful, a romp scattered with some truly horrible events. Quartet made me cry on a metro platform, The Dud Avocado made me want to skip off back to Paris in a ballgown and go on adventures with people I barely know.

It occurred to me a while ago that characters called Sally are always excellent, and this one is no exception: pink-haired, heavy-drinking, promiscuous and riotously funny, though also fickle and unreliable. Set against the image of the 1950s that is presented to us now, it is far more modern than you might expect, just as this article says. I wish I’d read it before moving to Paris, or at least while I was there, but better late than never!

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