‘The Freudian Slip’ by Marion Von Adlerstein – A Book Review – Hachette Australia 2011

Book Review – ‘The Freudian Slip’ by Marion von Adlerstein. Published by Hachette, Australia, N.S.W. 2011.

If you, are a reader craving a trip down memory lane, especially to Sydney in the ‘swinging sixties’, when women were judged more on their appearances than intelligence, sock darning was still a regular activity and the Sunday roast appeared as regular as clock work on the dining table, then this book is for you! Speaking as a ‘baby boomer’ myself, growing up in Adelaide, I could relate to von Adlerstein’s nostalgic view of what life was like for women in that era. Her ‘over the top’ use of sixties clichés and references to icons of that era, is testimony to the author’s sharp eye for detail and also to her illustriously long career in journalism and advertising. This story is the brain child of 79 year old, first time novelist, Marion von Adlerstein.

‘Mad Men’ devotees may feel that von Adlerstein has simply ‘piggy-backed’ on this successful television drama. I disagree. Her attention to detail (albeit too much on occasions), and using her life experiences as a frame of reference, transports readers back in time. This bygone era conjures up nostalgic memories, boasting elegantly dressed women with beehive hairdos, playing ‘hostess’ at dinner parties whilst offering chicken mornay vol-au-vents, asparagus spears wrapped in brown bread, devilled eggs, meatloaf terrines, and of course the porcupine look-alike oranges speared with cocktail onions.

The story is set in the Bofinger, Adams, Rawson and Keane advertising agency (BARK), in 1963. You will not be disappointed with the office politics, namely, back stabbing, extra marital affairs, and the never ending struggle amongst the company’s cast of characters as they climb the corporate ladder. The three very different sub-plots of the leading ladies, namely, Bea, Desi and Stella are intertwined throughout the book. Thirty something Bea is a divorcee copywriter who is very private, whilst the attractive statuesque blonde heiress and television producer, Desi, is engaged to one of the most eligible bachelors in town. Her extra-curricular activities bring shame onto her well connected family, and attract the unwanted attentions of the Press. Meanwhile, Stella, who came ‘from the wrong side of town’ is desperately seeking acceptance into the higher echelons, and does everything in her power to improve her status in the firm. Karma comes back to bite her, as her lack of creativity, common sense and inclination to plagiarise returns to haunt her, after her promotion from secretary to copywriter and personal assistant.

In sixties Australia, most women were expected to be subservient to men, and von Adlerstein portrays this beautifully in her story. Women had a lot to put up with. Their bosses long drawn out lunches, the ever pervading smell and inhalation of cigarette smoke and sexist remarks on a regular basis. For example:

“The last strains of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ were accompanied by canned applause. When Guy turned down the volume the first words anyone heard came from Kelvin, the despatch boy, who’d sneaked in and now stood at the back of the room. ‘I wouldn’t mind giving her a grand slam!’ There was a burst of laughter. Stella pretended not to have heard, turning to smile at Jacques as he topped up her glass. ‘What did he say?’ asked someone. ‘He wants to get into her pants’, said someone else. ‘Whose?’ ‘Guy’s seck-a-tree’s”.

The hilarious twist on the company’s advertising campaign showing off sexy lingerie should satisfy the very toughest of critics! Using the pun ‘Freudian slip’ as the title for her book, works to the author’s advantage, and the story that unfolds is entertaining as well as thought provoking when read in the light of our 21st century perspective on the theme. The credibility of the agency is under threat as the closeted world of homosexuals is suddenly exposed to the light of day. The author weaves her magic in a tale of humour, paranoia and fear, as the likelihood of the Agency losing an important client, is real. Stella’s lack of integrity eventually becomes her undoing. To reveal more may spoil the read!

All in all, I think the author has crafted a remarkable tale. She allows us to accurately relive the times and era of the sixties, to observe career women trying to prove that they were just as capable as men of selling a certain type of breakfast cereal or conditioning shampoo. More than that, she enables us to look back with rose coloured glasses on a simpler world with our accumulated wisdom of another half century of social progress. Those of us that didn’t experience the sixties will still enjoy the tale for its naivety in the relationship between the sexes that it portrays. If readers are looking for an in depth, more historical look at this era, they may be disappointed. Personally, I enjoyed this light hearted and refreshing trip down memory lane. The sixties were indeed an interesting time in Australian history when women’s liberation was long overdue; however, I can’t help but feel that something of the magic of that era has been lost in this brave new world we live in!