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The Most Awkward Office Party Ever

Lucky Jim is a novel full of beautiful awkwardness.

Amis’s style and tone remind me of Anthony Powell’s writing in A Dance To The Music Of Time.

You might recall I absolutely loathed that novel—it’s last in my rankings. But though Lucky Jim reminds me of Dance in some regards, it’s a much more humorous, entertaining, developed novel—at least to this point.

But back to the awkwardness. I can think of nothing more awkward than being invited to a dinner party full of college history professors and being asked to gather around a piano and sing together. For fun.

That’s exactly what happens to Jim Dixon. His mentor, Professor Welsh, invites him over for a party and some impromptu singing breaks out.

“We’re all waiting, Ned,” Mrs. Welch said from the piano. She played a slow arpeggio, sustaining it with the pedal. “All right, everybody?”

A soporific droning filled the air round Dixon as the singers hummed their notes to one another. Mrs. Welch rejoined them on the low platform that had been built at one end of the music room, taking up her stand by Margaret, the other soprano. A small bullied-looking woman with unabundant brown hair was the only contralto. Next to Dixon was Cecil Goldsmith, a colleague of his in the College History Department, whose tenor voice held enough savage power, especially above middle C, to obliterate whatever noises Dixon might feel himself compelled to make. Behind him and to one side were three basses, one a local composer, another an amateur violinist occasionally summoned at need by the city orchestra, the third Evan Johns.

Dixon ran his eye along the lines of black dots, which seemed to go up and down a good deal, and was able to assure himself that everyone was going to have to sing all the time. He’d had a bad setback twenty minutes ago in some Brahms rubbish which began with ten seconds or so of unsupported tenor—more accurately, of unsupported Goldsmith, who’d twice dried up in face of a tricky interval and left him opening and shutting his mouth in silence. He now cautiously reproduced the note Goldsmith was humming and found the effect pleasing rather than the reverse. Why hadn’t they had the decency to ask him if he’d like to join in, instead of driving him up on to this platform arrangement and forcing sheets of paper into his hand?

That’s a long passage, so I understand if you didn’t get through it. But I think it shows the underlying humor and awkward vibe of Lucky Jim.

Can you imagine? This would be the worst office party in the history of office parties. Not only do they have to sing, but they’re also asked to harmonize.

So far, old Jim Dixon hasn’t been so “lucky.” More to come on this novel on Thursday.

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think this was the first of the novels about academic life, a subject inherently rich in comic possibilities. Nabokov was among the many writers who have and continue to mine this Mother Lode.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 11, 2014
  2. One thing is for sure. They wouldn’t ask me to sing.

    Like

    November 11, 2014
  3. Ted Fontenot #

    I haven’t read A Dance to the Music of Time. It just seems too forbidding, although I have read things like Ulysses and The Sot-Weed Factor (Giles Goat Boy, too). Given what you say here and elsewhere, I doubt I will. I am reading Afternoon Men right now, however, which I think is Powell’s first novel. I didn’t expect much, but someone at Slate recently has said that Powell was a combination of Evelyn Waugh and P. G. Wodehouse, and as I love Wodehouse and Waugh’s Scoop I thought I’d give it a try. I’m into about the first 75 pages of Afternoon Men so far, and I like it. Lots of acerbic dialogue, cutting remarks–no one seems unbearably awful, but no one is very likable either. It reads fast.

    The second half of Peter De Vries’s Let Me Count the Ways is about a college instructor who all within the space of a few weeks becomes head of his department, dean of his college, and then president of the university–through comic mishaps, of course. It’s one of my favorite comic novels.

    Like

    November 11, 2014
    • Dance is a terrible. Other than critics, I’ve never heard someone say they liked it. You can always give it a test run and pick up the first book (of 12) and see how it goes.

      Like

      November 12, 2014
      • Ted Fontenot #

        I think I’ll give it a pass. For now anyway.

        Like

        November 12, 2014
  4. Thank you for making me remember this very funny passage. I also remember that I had to laugh out loud when I read it (in a train in England), which happens very very rarely, to be exact, I think it only happened three times: Lucky Jim, Changing Places by David Lodge and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.

    Like

    November 11, 2014
    • It definitely has a few laugh out loud moments.

      Like

      November 12, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on Claudia Evita.

    Like

    November 12, 2014
  6. I love a good laugh-out-loud book!

    Like

    November 12, 2014
  7. Elaine Sargent #

    Loved Adrian Mole!!!!

    Like

    November 21, 2014
  8. Agreed. I tried hard to like “Dance to the Music of Time,” but couldn’t get through it.

    Like

    November 22, 2014

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