The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

1958. 255 pages. Paperback.

From: Public Library (Interlibrary loan!)

For the challenge: What’s In A Name

Recommendation from: Novel Insights

In a nutshell:

Sally Jay Gorce has wanted to see and experience the world since she was twelve.  After graduating college, and as a gift from a rich relative, she takes off for Paris ready to take on the world.  The book follows her in her adventures which include among other things: a lost passport, a film about a bullfighter, and a number of men.


I adored the spirited, fresh voice of this book.  Sally Jay Gorce is a fascinating character.  She is nothing like me but I can identify with her because Elaine Dundy knows how to convey the undercurrent of universality in her protagonist’s story.  For instance, there will be a moment where Sally is in the grip of high emotion over something, and then the next day or so, that feeling will have dissipated thanks to time’s effect on perspective.  Or also, Sally will be naive or self-centered and then have a breakthrough or flash of insight that endears her to the reader.

As I said, the voice in this book is incredible.  One would hardly know that it was written in the 1950’s (and maybe even barely know that it was set in the 1950’s except that they’re sending telegrams instead of emails to each other.)  The writing is sharp and funny, especially in its observations of people and situations.  Almost every page could be a showcase of this writing, it’s so consistently good.  Here’s one observation I particularly enjoyed about a party that Sally has been dragged to:

We walked into the drawing room, where everyone was sitting around like a bunch of stuffed owls.  Gradually they came to life.  About seven of them began exchanging glances with each other, very slowly at first and then with increasing vivacity, until exchanged glances were ricocheting around the room like bullets.

There is a plot among all this great writing, a story arc that follows Sally’s reconnection with an American acquaintance named Larry.  She feels like she’s in love with him, though he’s kind of a jerk.  He casts her in a small play he’s directing in Paris and later invites her to join him and a small party of friends down by Biarritz, by the ocean.

I was a little surprised by some of the revelations and events near the end – I didn’t really see it coming, but it didn’t seem out of place.  When I finished The Dud Avocado, I gave that little contented sigh that you do after a good meal or good book.


Filed under Book Review

10 responses to “The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

  1. Erin Leigh

    I was thinking about the title of the book as I read the review. It seems a strange title for dealing with travels in Paris. Does it eventually come around to the title?

    It seems a great book. Very interesting considering that it was writen in the 50’s. Ahead of it’s time.

    • Yes, the title comes up near the end, during a conversation. I don’t want to spoil it, because it was kind of neat to see how it came into the story. Also, the author’s afterword in this edition also discusses how the title came to be, which is an interesting story in itself.

  2. Just hoppin’ on by from the Blog Hop! I am now a subscriber!

  3. I’m excited to read this! I heard about it shortly after discovering the wartime diaries of Joan Wyndham, which I loved, and apparently The Dud Avocado is rather similar in tone. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Lydia – Thanks!

    Lisa – Thanks for stopping by!

    Jenny – See now, you just did a counter-recommendation and I have to go look up the Joan Wyndham book now! 😉

  5. Meg

    I’ve actually never heard of this novel but am adding it to my wishlist! Sounds like an awesome story; I love books set in the 1950s, though that’s really interesting that you didn’t feel it was dated at all. Loved your line about the telegrams vs. emails. Great review!

  6. This is a totally new one to me (as most of the great NYRB editions are) but I am hooked after reading your nutshell. Gift, trip to Paris…what more is there to know. I am going to have to keep my eye out for this one.

  7. Meg – Glad to put Dud Avocado on your radar. If you like the setting, you should definitely go for it.

    Thomas – The introduction to the NYRB edition starts out: “It is the destiny of some good novels to be perpetually rediscovered and Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, I fear, is one of them.” I’m glad I caught it in this recent cycle of rediscovery.

  8. Pingback: Library Book Sale finds, TBR Triple Dog Dare, Long-Awaited Reads Month | A Good Stopping Point

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