The Freudian Slip by Marion von Alderstein

by |November 22, 2011

Reading The Freudian Slip has confirmed what I have long suspected. I was definitely born in the wrong time. There is a wonderful sense of authenticity about this engaging debut novel, most likely because Marion von Adlerstein is the real deal. She is not merely paying homage to a bygone era but drawing on personal experience to evoke a real sense of time and place. In this instance, the time is 1963, the place is Sydney and the result is a charming Chick Lit romp with a retro twist. This is the kind of addictive summer read that will no doubt provide many a nostalgic pang to those lucky enough to have experienced Sydney in the 1960s. For those who only wish they were that lucky, The Freudian Slip is even better than an episode of Mad Men.

Given the premise of Marion Von Adlerstein’s debut novel, comparisons to Mad Men are inevitable. Set in an advertising agency during the “swinging sixties” the plot is rife with backstabbing office politics and extra-marital bed hopping. That being said, if you happen to be one of those rare and incomprehensible people who does not enjoy Mad Men, do not be discouraged. The Freudian Slip is essentially a timeless tale about three women from very different backgrounds, each one trying to decide want she wants out of life and how best to go about getting it.


Our rollcall of leading ladies begins with Bea. Effortlessly chic and radiating raw talent, Bea is a successful copywriter in her early thirties struggling to move on after a failed marriage – not that anyone would ever guess. Bea is an expert at keeping the details of her private life secret.

Next up we have Desiree Whittleford AKA “Desi”. A statuesque blonde heiress hailing from the Eastern suburbs, Desi’s private life has an alarming tendency to end up splashed all over the front page of the newspaper. Engaged to one of Sydney’s most eligible bachelors, Desi keeps forgetting to wear her engagement ring and can’t quite figure out why the thought of getting married has her feeling so glum.

Stella is the classic “wannabe”. She’s bound and determined to transform herself from a dowdy secretary into a successful career woman. Described by an astute colleague as being, “all show and no content”, Stella knows what she wants and she’s not about to let pesky concepts such as “ethics” or “integrity” stand in her way. Unfortunately, she is missing the two most important qualities needed to achieve her goals, namely talent and common sense. Almost wholly lacking any kind of creative instinct, Stella had a habit of “reappropriating” the ideas of her co-workers and passing them of as her own. One such idea is a racy advertising campaign for the eponymous “Freudian Slip” – a line of ladies lingerie that is set to take Sydney by storm in a rather unexpected fashion.

Readers will find the plot of The Freudian Slip evenly paced, the dialogue clever and the characters engaging. However, the real star of the show here is Sydney circa 1963. Being a person with a tendency to squeal in delight over rotary dial telephones, shag pile carpet, vinyl records and other such trapping of the time period, I found myself very much enamoured of the 1960’s setting. With a deft hand and a flawless eye for detail, Marion Von Adlerstein takes us back to a version of Sydney in which Bennelong Point boasts an ugly construction site in place of an Opera House, where Paddington is described as a “seedy” area and King’s Cross is considered “bohemian”. This is an era in which the average woman accepted her place in the kitchen and men were permitted – nay expected! – to knock back hard liquor in the office and take three hour lunch breaks at fancy restaurants. In short, it is the perfect stage for a story about enterprising young women, full of old fashioned moxie, to prove once and for all that they are just as capable of selling breakfast cereal and hair dye as the menfolk.

At the end of the day, once you finish The Freudian Slip you’ll most likely be asking yourself the same question that has been niggling at me since I flipped the last page. Where is my time machine?

Guest reviewer, Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling.

Editor’s note:

I can’t give you a time machine, but I can point you to Marion reminiscing about hers.


Can’t get enough of Marion? Here she is again with our Ten Terrifying Questions.

Order the book through Booktopia here.

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