Lucky Jim

If you don’t know, this is by Kingsley Amis. I read this for book club, after my suggestion was picked out of the hat. I had suggested it based on a recommendation of it as the funniest book ever written. David Lodge, in his introduction, says that it wasn’t as continuously funny as he remembered it being, or as its legend might lead new readers to expect. This is exactly right.

I found it fairly amusing in several places, not to the point of actually laughing (one book club member was banished to the library in his house due to laughing too loud while reading), but enough to draw a smirk. Mostly at the language – the euphemisms, especially – rather than the action, such as it is. It may be because they style has been imitated over the past 55 years, but with more engaging plots and characters.

Lucky Jim spends most of the book as a bit of a non-entity, drinking too much, never really committing to anything, getting into and out of various scrapes and pulling a variety of faces. He is trapped in a world he drifted into by not making decisions, and can’t quite make the decision to abandon it, despite his obvious dislike of it. And then fortune intercedes and grants him the girl and a dream job (although I don’t think it’s terribly obvious what this dream job is, except for the fact that it’s in That London).

I’m not entirely sure whether the humour is supposed to derive from the situations (“oh no, Jim has accidentally set fire to his bedsheets while drunk! – how will he get out of this?” seems to be the stuff of innumerable 70s sitcoms) or the style, which I liked much more (“referring to the quality of the beer by a monosyllable not in decent use”) but there are big gaps between highlights of either type.

So I was disappointed, overall, but I am glad that I read it.

See also:

The Antipope – Robert Rankin. A more modern British comic novel. Also features a hero called Jim who likes a pint and succeeds more by luck than superior talent or bravery.

Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad. Also features a hero called Jim. Has a less happy ending, as I recall.

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1 thought on “Lucky Jim”

  1. I’m starting to think that the decisive factor in loving or not loving the book must come from whether or not you like the character or not? I liked the fact that he was a bit of a fuck-up, drifting into circumstances by not making decisions etc. it seemed quite real to me. And I guess if you buy into the character then humour of the situations and the style in which they are described really come through, whereas if you don’t buy into the character then it probably just all gets lost.

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