Day Four of NYRB Classics Reading Week
[The observant among you may have noticed that my scan of this book cover shows Lucy’s first (and hopefully last) attempt to read a book.]
There is something about living abroad in one’s early 20s that really can’t be replicated. No matter how many times I go back to Europe, nothing will ever compare to the six months I spent working in London when I was 21. This is an age when you are old enough to enjoy the experience but still stupid enough to live with a certain amount of abandon. Our heroine in The Dud Avocado, Sally Jay Gorce, seems to have a little more of the latter and not so much of the former.
Thanks to a generous uncle, Sally Jay is spending two years living in Paris. During that time she hooks up with all sorts of artistic (and not so artistic) characters while she somewhat half-heartedly pursues an acting career. Like many 20-somethings, her ambition and common sense ebbs and flows and seems to dissapate at the first sign romance. Although I did plenty of stupid things when I was abroad in my 20s, I never really lost control of my overall trajectory. Sally Jay on the other hand seems to go with the flow more than is good for her. Of course, to many this is the charm of The Dud Avocado. To someone like me, who likes order, predictability, and people who follow the rules and don’t make waves, the book is somewhat less charming. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading. It just meant that I had to adjust my expectations. This is not your cosy, girl blossoms in foreign land kind of story.
For me, for the reasons noted above, this book was hard to warm up to. But just when I thought it was going to be a slog from beginning to end, it suddenly caught my interest in a meaningful way. Around page 140 I stopped trying to rewrite it in my head to make Sally Jay more responsible and found myself actually starting to care what happens next.
I realize this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for The Dud Avocado, but I will say that if I had expected something less picturesque and more madcap I would have enjoyed it much more than I did. But even that doesn’t do it justice, there are some serious themes that make for compelling reading. Published in 1958, it also deals with female sexuality in a pretty frank way that must have been somewhat scandalous for the time. And I am sure there are many feminist and not so feminist themes that could be teased out. But I am too intellectually lazy at the moment to do so.