Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

June 5, 2009

lucky_jim This is another book that made the Observer’s list of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. However, while Lucky Jim was indeed somewhat enjoyable at times, I’m fairly certain I could find a suitable replacement for this book on the Best 100 list!

Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The novel is told from the point of view of Jim Dixon, a first-year university lecturer at a small school in England. The action begins near the end of Dixon’s first term, and his future at the university is in doubt. He’s afraid he hasn’t made much of a positive impact on the department head, Ned Welch, the man in whose hands Dixon’s future rests. Therefore, Dixon feels compelled to acquiesce to a series of requests from Welch that include delivering a year-end lecture on the subject of “Merrie England” and coming to the Welches’ home for a weekend gathering with a few others. The reader is privy to Dixon’s inner thoughts, which make it clear that they are the exact opposite to the sentiments he actually voices.

While at the Welches’ gathering, Dixon runs into Margaret, a colleague of his from the school with whom he has been cultivating the beginnings of a romantic relationship. The only problem is that Margaret is a bit unstable at the moment, having recently attempted suicide after a break-up with a former boyfriend. Dixon seems to be with her out of pity more than anything else.

Dixon also meets Bertrand Welch, Professor Welch’s elder son, and Bertrand’s young girlfriend Christine. Dixon is attracted to Christine, but thinks of her as snobbish based on how she acts during their first meeting. Dixon takes an instant disliking to Bertrand, and will get into numerous confrontations with the painter throughout the novel.

The rest of the story goes on to show how Dixon tries to make things work with Christine while similarly attempting to gently let Margaret down. In addition, Dixon still has to find a way to make a favorable impression on Welch in order to keep his job. Naturally, since Dixon has mostly bad luck, he gets into a bunch of odd situations before having everything work out in the end.

Liked:

  • The main character Jim Dixon was rather likable. He seemed a bit bland, to be honest, but out of all the other chumps in the book, he was definitely the most sympathetic.
  • The novel definitely had some funny parts to it. Lucky Jim was published 1954 in England, so I’m sure a lot of the humor was lost on me because of time and cultural differences. I wouldn’t call it laugh-out-loud funny, but I smiled a few times.

Disliked:

  • The book stalled in so many places because there was very little real conflict to speak of. It was hard to keep going at times because I didn’t particularly care about the outcome and felt that there was no point to what was happening.
  • The other characters were such caricatures that it was difficult to imagine Dixon wanting any part of any of them. Why would he want to continue working for a man like Welch? Why would he even entertain the notion of taking up with Margaret? What was so great about Christine that Dixon wanted to go all out to win her?

Rating:

Lucky Jim was not one of the better books that I’ve read from the Observer list, and frankly, I’m puzzled by its inclusion. There wasn’t really anything memorable about the novel; just 5 days have passed since I completed it, and I’m already having trouble recalling the details. I’m sure I’ll forget about it entirely in a few months, which shows how little of an impression it made on me. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

One Response to “Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis”

  1. There’s a good reason this book is on the Observer’s top 100 list: it’s one of the funniest books ever written. It’s the only book I’ve read, which includes most of Wodehouse and Perelman, where I literally fell sideways in my chair from laughter. Granted these peak scenes occur only twice, but they alone raise the book to top 100 status. The author’s prose is dry and clever and the plot moves quickly enough, barring a few scenes with the neurotic Margaret. The book is like Pride and Prejudice; every so often one should reread it. I’m probably overdue on both.

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