Not such a dud

"Dear Mrs Tynan, I don't make the habit of writing to married women, especially if the husband is a dramatic critic, but I had to tell someone (and it might as well be you since you're the author) how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado.

"It made me laugh, scream and guffaw (which incidentally is a great name for a law firm). If this was actually your life, I don't know how on earth you got through it. Sincerely, Groucho Marx."

The Mrs Tynan of Groucho's letter was the American author Elaine Dundy, then married to the critic Kenneth Tynan. The dud avocado is a quite remarkable book. Published in the same year, 1958, as Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffanys, the two novels have much in common. Both are about girls newly independent, and out to have a good time - Holly Golightly in New York, Sally Jay Gorce, the heroine of Avocado in Paris. But here they part company. Sally Jay is so much more believable than Holly (I'm speaking here of the Holly of the novel, she's a much more sympathetic and alive character in the film than in the original book).

So why has Dud Avocado nearly been forgotten? It was probably inevitable that it was going to be overshadowed by Tiffanys, Audrey Hepburn's performance alone making it a stand-out film. But that's a real shame because Avocado is great fun, and provides a real insight into life for Fifties woman on the cusp of sexual liberation and feminism. Sally Jay is in Paris to enjoy herself, and enjoy herself she does with a string of good time guys, a sweet artist, a conman, and finally the man of her dreams. She plays hard, and works reasonably hard starring in a disastrous play, a film featuring bullfighters (no surprise that Dundy was a friend of Hemingway), and a spot of nude modelling. Although she comes across as an experienced woman of the world, you quickly realise that this is a facade, Gorce is every bit an innocent who likes to believe the best of everyone; and the novel charts her growth as a person, as she becomes, sadly, more cynical.

There are some wonderfully funny moments. There were quite a few times when I, like Groucho, guffawed helplessly. But, it's also got a serious side. I suspect that this might have been the first novel where attitudes towards women were seriously questioned - both sexually and as domestic goddesses - and not just questioned as an aside, but slap in your face. There are some wonderfully funny moments as Sally Jay struggles to prove that cookery is not the evolutionary prerogative of women; or discovers the double standards by which women are judged sexually.

You may like Holly Golightly, but Sally Jay is the woman that I think many women would like to have as their best friend. She is gloriously outrageously real, and hugely likeable. For anyone who has slept with the wrong man, discovered the love of their life is a conman, or just been young, desperate to be grown-up and tasting those first heady days of independence, this is the book to read.


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