Sally Jay Gorce is a true personality. As we join her in Paris where she is hellbent on living her life to the full, there isn’t a boring second. Sally’s mix of tenacity and carelessness gets her in endless trouble. But she doesn’t let herself be broken, she gets up, deals with yet another hangover, and throws herself back into the thick of it. What a joy to read.
It is the 1950’s, Sally Jay is 21 and we are in Paris. Sally always had an appetite for life and after her fourth escape from home her uncle Roger made a pact with her. When she graduates from college he will give her allowance for two years so she can go and explore the world to her heart’s content. In exchange, he only asked her to come back at the end of that period and share her adventures with him.
So Sally is relatively comfortable financially and can focus all of her considerable energy on enjoying Paris. She has an affair with a diplomat, who has a wife and a mistress, ventures frequently to the Ritz. But also has no qualms about mixing with more bohemian crowds, especially as she wants to be an actress. We meet her as she meets Larry Keevil and promptly falls in love with him. And also has an orgasm as soon as he touches her hand.
Sally is a mess, her hair is pink, her outfits fail spectacularly every single time, but there is vivacity to her that men find hard to resist. And Sally has no qualms about using her charm, For her life is there to be lived. She is in an endless pursuit of living and is often frustrated that she doesn’t seem to be succeeding. Because Sally does not realize that in this case chasing the bunny is more important than catching it.
The goal for Sally is basically having everything. She wants glamour, but also bohemian artists. She wants sex but also true love. She wants a peaceful life, but also one of adventure. In all her greediness, however, she remains honest and naive, so it doesn’t grate on us. She is like a three-year-old in a candy store asking herself: why should I choose, I want it all.
The plot of the book is bonkers, it really is a series of mishaps triggered by Sally’s impulsiveness. But the plot is not really the point here. Sally’s observations of her fellow human, her musings on life and her sense of humor combined with resilience are what this book is about. It’s extremely funny, but often also very perceptive, especially about the situation of women.
It is not a book that will profoundly change your life, but as we slowly come out of the pandemic it is a refreshing reminder that life needs to be enjoyed and sometimes the hell with the consequences. What’s the point of living if we don’t have fun. And this is precisely why I think I will be coming back to the book. It also reminded me of another favorite of mine: Elizabeth and Her German Garden, there is something in the tone of both those books that is so refreshing.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska