Still lucky (and laughing)
|Swansea University - where Amis worked while writing Lucky Jim|
Yes, shades of Kingsley Amis the misogynist are still there, the social mores have changed; but this novel is a masterpiece. And I dare anyone to read it with a straight face.
Jim Dixon is a lecturer in History at a provincial university somewhere in the UK. Set shortly after the Second World War, Jim is one of the new breed of university lecturers - not public school and Oxbridge, but a local grammar school and a red-brick university. He even sounds different - Jim is occasionally known to sport a northern accent. Jim however hates his job, at least not so much the job, he genuinely loves history; but he hates the life of academia, and some of the weird people he works with, not least the objectionable Professor Welch.
Jim lurches from disaster to disaster from burning the bedclothes in the Professor's house to a fight with Welch's odious artist-son, Bertrand. Stuck with a depressing girlfriend but in love with Bertrand's stuck-up girlfriend, Christine - who turns out to be a thoroughly good sort beneath the snooty veneer - Jim feels trapped. Is the Merrie England lecture going to lead to promotion? Or will there be a rather different outcome?
Lucky Jim is a brilliantly good book. Amis always wrote well, but this was his star work. Hilariously funny, shaking with anger and frustration at the system, and with some quotes that you would sell your soul to have written.
And it's not just funny either. Amis rages against the bonds of class and education in the UK; and of the snobbery that surrounds institutions (less so now, but all pervasive then). There's a very serious side to it. Jim, even at his funniest, talks a lot of sense. It's notable that many of the most "serious" characters actually spout ill-concealed rubbish.
Of its time but timeless. When I first read Lucky Jim, I had fairly recently graduated from a provincial university; and there was much that I still recognised in it. Nearly 30 years on much has changed but Jim remains a wonderful book. How did I manage to not read it for so long?