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When the World was Young
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.