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on 1 September 2011
Thanks to a generous donation from her Uncle young American actress Sally Jay Gorce is in Paris in the 1950's. She is affectionate, optimistic, feckless and given to falling in love with unsuitable men. Like her creator she rather brave and clear sighted. Sally Jay is delightfully funny and well aware of her own failings.
I am indebted to Rachel Cooke whose excellent article in the "Guardian" prompted me to re-read this novel. I can vouch for the sense of authenticity that it gives and though while in Paris around that time I never did meet anyone quite like Sally Jay the chaotic life of expatriate Montparnasse that she describes certainly rings true. The comments on the differences between Saint-Germain and Montparnasse reveal the author's eye for detail.
Never having read them I can make no comment on the more recent authors mentioned but I do suggest that Truman Capote's Holly Golightly, created at about the same time, is more a creature of male fantasy than of reality. Dundy's heroine in not particularly judgmental but there is an underlying self-doubt and insecurity about her that makes her far more than some icon for 'women's liberation'.
There have been a few distortions of the past on television recently and it would be a pity if any reader of this novel were to be weighed down by false assumptions. It was written to be enjoyed and is best read as such. There's a bit more too it than that, of course, and Dundy's autobiography "Life Itself" is revealing while "The Old Man and Me", another first person novel, is remarkably frank for its time.
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on 6 May 2004
Problem: You feel like reading something that's witty and light-hearted but not so embarrassingly girly that it makes you feel like you should be wearing fluffy pink slippers and call your beloved "snookums". You loved "Cold Comfort Farm" by Stella Gibbons and "In The Pursuit of Love" by Nancy Mitford. You have been known to dream of Parisian boulevards and bohemian attic flats in Montparnasse. The thought of strolling down Boule Mich in an evening gown makes you feel all warm inside.
Solution: The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy, following the adventures and misadventures of Sally Jay Gorce. In the proud tradition of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, Sally Jay is an American in Paris, sardonic and enamoured at the same time, and determined to soak up everything the Moving Feast of Lights can offer. In contrast to Ernst or Gertrude, though, she is more busy flitting around cafes and pursuing a very modest stage career than devoting herself to High Art. She just wants to live, damn it! And that's exactly what she does, mixing with shady aristocrats, hustlers, painters and Southern belles from the Left Bank to Biarritz.
Sally Jay's streetsmart voice conveys a great sense of time and place. The fifties slang is really cute, and it's interesting to see the how the Home-makers of America moral values prevailed even in bohemian Paris. Even though some plotlines seem a bit weak (without giving too much away: how traumatic is it to lose a passport, for example?), the charm and exuberance of this book makes it seem churlish to complain. You could definitely do worse than party in Paris with Sally Jay.
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on 20 November 2013
The item arrived on time, in good condition but I was disappointed with the novel itself. The Guardian had recommended it some weeks ago as an interesting novel about an independent woman living her life in the nineteen-fifties. It may have been ground-breaking back then, though I doubt it, but the character and the style of writing are very dated. The protagonist is twee, self-consciously quirky, and extremely pleased with herself. She exists only in relation to the men in her life, which I don't consider to be 'living her life as an independent woman.'
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on 29 November 2001
I fell head over heels in love with Sally Jay Gorce when I read this book. She is eccentic, intelligent, self aware, intelligent and witty
but succumbs to self doubt and lack of experience. Rarely do you encounter a character so real. This book is a joy from first sentence to last. I never wanted it to end. Perfect.
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on 9 July 2013
Sally Jay Gorce kept running away in search of adventure when she was a girl, but since her rich uncle when she was thirteen promised her two years out after college, she's been as good as gold and has instead read lots of books. (I'm sceptical of the psychology here: when you're thirteen, isn't twenty-one the impossibly distant future?) Now she's twenty-one and in Paris, the lover of a rich diplomat who meets her at the Ritz and the friend of a wild group of left-bank artist-intellectuals. Although she has a sort of friend, Judy, who's always ill, she spends all her time and energy on men. She falls in love with a not-so-rich theatre-director, acts in his plays and goes on a bender with him, but ends up the girlfriend of a kind (and rich) young painter. However, still in love with the director, she goes off to St Jean de Luz with him and two others, and gets involved with people making a film about a bullfighter. Finally she discovers the director is horrible and has stolen her passport, goes back to New York and marries a rich film-director.

The style's a skazzy, Catcher-in-the-Rye-inspired first person, with some show-off-ness and puns ('foule-ing around'?) that make it feel as if it really were written by a twenty-one-year-old. Plotting is sometimes dodgy - Judy's abrupt improvement at the end, for instance, felt throwaway? - and despite its brilliant start, it seems to run out of steam. But the glamorous settings help, and I felt sympathetic to Sally Jay as someone desperately trying to have a good time amid the sheer nastiness of the fifties, a period when, for instance, it seems that if you saw a woman systematically being beaten up, you didn't even _consider_ reporting it to the police.
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on 1 October 2014
Sexual intercourse began in 1963? A lot was going on in Paris in 1958 (and in London in the 20s, according to Dodie Smith). It's good to read a book written in the voice of a young woman, though I agree with others that the protagonist is quite irritating. She might have found life less confusing if she had held back on the alcohol. She is the 50s version of the Bright Young Thing. And goodness gracious, Americans who can afford have been living a self-conscious vie de Boheme in Paris for decades. (We thought the hippies were NEW! Silly us.) But most of them could go back home to the proper job and the sensible marriage. What do young people do now? They go to university to drink and have affairs - no need for Paris. I suppose in both cases they read a few books, look at a few pictures, and have a few intellectual discussions. Sally Jay Gorce spends the book pursuing another expat, the patronising Larry, while having affairs with other men. Larry turns out to have worse vices than telling young girls they are just "green tourists", however. This seems a bit melodramatic - but in real life Dundy married Kenneth Tynan.

Sally Jay aspires to be a woman sipping cocktails in the Ritz wearing a lot of jewellery and pale furs - would she have been shocked to find that 10 years later, the fashion was for dirt, purple velvet, drugs and discotheques? At least the promiscuity wouldn't have bothered her.
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on 26 July 1999
A story about an American girl in Paris sounds as if it'll make you sick with sentiment, especially when she's also an actress. But this girl has sarcasm and self-doubt enough to endear her to any a reader. Some great one-liners and a description of a chicken sandwich that makes your stomach rumble.
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on 25 September 2013
Although a great deal of humour in this book and the vignettes of some of the characters are superb, I found Sally Jay's musings could be a bit monotonous and as a privileged Yank in Europe in the fifties I became annoyed at her lack of ambition, purpose etc. Perhaps this is not unusual for the times, after the dark days of WWII but an interesting book.
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on 2 December 2012
Purchased this on the recommendation of the Slate XX Podcast. Began reading with high hopes, and ended on a 'dud' note. A decent book, but not one I would recommend. Probably best for a city girl 20-35 with slightly pretentious reading tastes.
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on 11 September 2013
This was a book club choice and completely wonderful. The writer makes the idea of going to Paris to be a starving artist type juggling various lovers, being treated badly by life and growing up in the process a timeless and universal experience.
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