New York Review Books
The reissued postwar comic novel sensation of 2007, Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado, was narrated, flightily and voraciously, by Sally Jay Gorce, a calamitously naïve American gal in Paris. In Dundy's no less humorous second novel The Old Man and Me, published six years later in 1964, similarly blithe-spirited Honey Flood — not her real name — arrives in London bearing cruel, perhaps murderous intentions. Honey is, per her creator, a "Bad Girl," which means that her naiveté, in contrast, radiates outward, seismically.
For reasons initially mysterious, Honey contrives to cross slipstreams with one C.D. McKee, a "Significant Figure": public intellectual, war hero, business disgrace, rich widower. The old-world aesthete and the new-world social climber wage their battle of the sexes while making the London scene – taverns flyspecked with drink-cadging journos; country homes kept creased by invisible maids — both assuming the roles of mentor and protégé, both balancing moods of self-interest and genuine feeling (or at least horniness).
Dundy, who died last year, was, like Sally Jay and Honey, an expensively and permissively educated American abroad; The Dud Avocado draws from her own Parisian adventures, and was written after her relocation to The Old Man and Me's London. (This more cynical novel was written during the unraveling of her marriage to Kenneth Tynan, who encouraged her to write Dud Avocado, then resented its success.) She was also the kind of woman who was invited to parties by people hoping to show up in her next book; which isn't to say she is a camera — more a sketch artist. Her particular genius is to invent a whole language for each of her characters: a lady authoress (of "one or two little books") speaks in full, flowery paragraphs; a hipster jazz singer trails off, coolly neurotic. Most of all, there's Honey, honey: peppering the text with confidences, asides and second-guesses; salting it with slang, puns and low blows. She, and the yarn she spins, is so effusive and noninjuriously mean, so innocently hungry for experience, that when the music stops and actions begin to have consequences, the resultant losses ache, like an empty stomach the day after Thanksgiving.