Quick: Nope, it’s not about a millennial brunch gone wrong. Elaine Dundy‘s The Dud Avocado, published in 1958, does, however, feature a young girl trying to find herself and her identity. Think Ladybird vibes, except, unlike Ladybird, Sally Jay Gorce (our heroine) has independence and money to spend. Provided for by her uncle back in America, Sally Jay floats around the Left Bank of Paris with dyed pink hair, constantly dressed in the wrong outfit whatever the occasion, in search of fame, love, and adventure.
Reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye, Zuleika Dobson or some Evelyn Waugh/Nancy Mitford books, this is a charming and very funny coming-of-age novel, with just enough bitterness to avoid phoniness. Dundy’s writing is incredibly winning. Sally Jay manages to steer clear of being Zooey Deschanel-level quirky, whilst still being a bit of an odd-ball. The action moves along pacily, particularly towards the end. Sally Jay isn’t one to dwell – and yet Dundy gives her plenty of room in which to ponder her existence and her entertaining thoughts and analysis of other people.
Like any twenty-year-old, Sally Jay’s thoughts are both amusingly naive and surprisingly wise. She rockets along from set to set, from dinner party to cafe to date, noticing her own quirks and those of all the characters she meets along her merry way. Her narrative makes the book what it is, her mixture of confusion and assurance instantly relatable. The plot is random and a bit scattershot, often feeling like a series of comic sketches combined together. There is however an underlying darkness throughout which makes the book slightly more weighty than it might at first seem.
The Dud Avocado won’t change your life. It might not be a book that you’ll remember and cherish forever. Nonetheless, Sally Jay Gorce is a protagonist deserving of some more attention.
Quicker: If you liked Ladybird, Catcher in the Rye, Zuleika Dobson, Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Cold Comfort Farm, this book and it’s coming-of-age narrative is the one for you. Very enjoyable.
Quickest: Pink hair + Paris + coming-of-age novel = great fun.