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Book #76: Lucky Jim

Confession: I never got into Lucky Jim like I expected to.

This was a novel I looked forward to since I first learned its premise. Lucky Jim is a short satirical novel. But despite its brevity, I took over a month to read it.

I just couldn’t ever “get into” Lucky Jim. I’d sit down to read and lose interest after about 10 pages. For a 250 page novel, that’s a lot of short reading spurts, which makes it difficult to stay in tune to a novel and its story.

But, finally, I finished the novel, and I report back to you today. Lucky Jim was mildly entertaining, somewhat dry, and somewhat reminiscent of Anthony Powell’s writing style (you might remember him from the dreadful A Dance To The Music of Time).

I’ll give it a C.

The story revolves around Jim Dixon, a young, borderline lazy literature professor who must endure an overbearing lead professor, a nutty “girlfriend,” and an overall awkward and sad social life.

If you placed Kingley Amis’ writing next to Martin Amis’ writing, you would never know they were father and son. The elder Amis has an academic, more formal style perfectly suited for the context of his stories. While Martin Amis, author of Money, has an informal, vulgar style also suited for the context of his stories.

Kingsley Amis (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the more funny scenes is when Jim gets drunk at a party and accidentally sets his bed sheets on fire afterwards. The problem being, he’s staying in the head professor’s home. He attempts to keep it a secret from the professor’s wife, which only delays the inevitable awkward conversation about passing out on the bed with a cigarette in his hand.

Amis pulled off some fabulous passages, including this one I shared with you in an earlier post about Jim’s hangover:

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth has been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by a secret police. He felt bad.

Now that’s just good.

I wish I could tell you more, but I’m just feeling uninspired about Lucky Jim.

I honestly can’t explain why I feel so blase about this novel. I love satire. Catch 22 is one of my favorite novels. And, even more, Lucky Jim is just straight up satire—there’s no political angle like in Catch 22.

Perhaps it’s a case of “It’s not you, it’s me.” Maybe it’s just during this busy season of my life, Lucky Jim didn’t strike the right chord with me. I just don’t know.

At the very least, I’ll say this book deserves another chance, so I’ll definitely be revisiting it down the road.

Other Stuff

The Opening Line: “They made a silly mistake, though,” the Professor of History said, and his smile, as Dixon watched, gradually sank beneath the surface of his features at the memory.

The Meaning: An unlucky, beaten down college professor goes through a series of even worse luck before finally catching a break or two.

Highlights: Funny satire at times. The hangover description, in particular, is amazing.

Lowlights: Lucky Jim never pulled me in like I expected. Amis’s writing has a way of lulling me to sleep.

Memorable Line: “If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.”

Final Thoughts: If you like satire, you might like Lucky Jim. However, I love satire, but I just couldn’t get into it. Go figure.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. You confirmed exactly what I thought about this book. My uncle gave it to me because it is one of his favorites, and I tried to get into and couldn’t. I ended up donating it during a move and I still fear my uncle asking me how I liked it. You have given me permission to get over my guilt: too many books = too little time!


    December 3, 2014
  2. Sometimes a book just doesn’t work for you. I happen to think this one is hilarious–right up there with Richard Russo’s Straight Man, which makes me laugh ’til I cry and also has an academic setting. The formal language about silly subjects reminds me of Wodehouse, too.


    December 3, 2014
  3. That is the problem with satire. Sometimes it’s not funny. I remember reading Gulliver’s Travels and Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis in college. Neither of them funny. Interesting but not funny. Whereas Christopher Buckley and P. J. O’Rourke are hilarious to me. Even though both are conservative and I am liberal, they do make me laugh the way Jon Stewart makes me laugh. By the way, I find it interesting that Sinclair Lewis is not on The List.


    December 3, 2014
  4. I enjoyed reading this, particularly what you had to say under Other Stuff.


    December 3, 2014
  5. That line about annoying people is genius. 🙂


    December 3, 2014
  6. I read it years ago and again recently for book group. My opinion didn’t change. I find it dated, not funny, maybe occasionally but no it didn’t grab me either.


    December 3, 2014

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  1. Help Me Pick The Next Novel I’ll Read | 101 Books
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