‘The Freudian Slip’ by Marion von Adlerstein

There’s a line early on in The Freudian Slip by Marion von Adlerstein that goes something like “…the packaging doesn’t match the product.” How true. I was totally seduced by the Mad-Men-styled cover of this book – the story promised to be sophisticated, slick and sharp but unfortunately the ‘product’ was disappointing.

The Freudian Slip is set in Sydney in the early sixties. Women wear princess-line dresses and seamed stockings. They are defined by the vital statistics of their bust, waist and hip measurements and if they are over thirty they are over the hill.

The story focuses on three women at advertising agency Bofinger Adams Rawson & Keane, each on different rungs of the social and corporate ladder. There’s divorcee Bea, a talented copy-writer, who goes home to an empty, lonely house. There’s glamorous socialite Desi, a television producer, whose love-life has an impact on her family’s reputation. And then there’s ‘working-class’ Stella, the secretary who manages to secure a promotion only to find that holding her position in the agency is tougher than she anticipated.

The characters are well-developed (if a little obvious) and the story moves at a decent pace. So what’s not to like about The Freudian Slip? Essentially, it comes down to details – details that became increasingly annoying the more I read. Firstly, it was the name-dropping. Well placed pop culture references give a book authenticity but in this case, it was overload – brands, places, people are reeled off like a sixties roll-call. For example –

“Bea didn’t bring her private life to work but, after one too many glasses of Pimm’s in the Hotel Australia last Melbourne Cup Day, she and Desi had confided in each other.”

“Then she could hang the Marimekko curtains and cover the polished floorboards with a shag-pile carpet to match the stone colour of the other walls.”

Secondly, the references to the future were so contrived that they were laughable. For example ‘putting a man of the moon’, the ‘health-food’ craze (“...a fad. It’ll never catch on.”); mention of Sydney suburbs as ‘seedy’ that are now gentrified; and of course references to the ill health effects of smoking.

“…she’d need the stability of marriage to the right man and an appropriate nest for them to share. There was about as much chance of that happening as there was of landing a man on the moon.”

“‘Come on Haze,’ said Roy. ‘It won’t hurt you. A bit of DDT’ll fix it.’ He looked in the cupboard under the sink. ‘Nothing useful in there. You better get something when the shops open on Monday.'” (because of course there was no weekend trading in the sixties. And we used DDT to kill cockroaches.)

And my favourite – “We could send a telex.”

Am I being too harsh given that all these details are no doubt accurate? Perhaps.

Lastly, setting the story in an advertising agency was a complete rip-off of Mad Men, right down to the constant lighting of cigarettes, pouring of martinis and moaning about health professionals interfering with their ad campaigns for tobacco (I’m fairly certain that was a storyline in the first series of Mad Men).

In summary, it was like someone hitting you over the head with a Casa Pupo pot – obvious.

There are oodles of fab retro food references in this book but a mention of zabaglione won me and when I found this recipe for Chilled Strawberry & Pimm’s Zabaglione, I knew it was The Freudian Slip perfection.

2/5 I should have given ‘The Slip’ the pass….

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