Monday, August 1, 2016

LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis

Jim Dixon is a young history professor who smokes too much and drinks too much.  Put the two vices together and you have burned bedding in the home of Professor Welch, of the proverbial absent-minded variety, who holds sway over Dixon’s future.  Dixon has also been known to pull the occasional harmless prank in the pursuit of a woman or to exact revenge for revealing one of his screw-ups or secrets.  Dixon is drawn to two women.  Margaret is not particularly attractive, but Dixon feels a certain obligation to keep her company after an apparent suicide attempt.  Christine, on the other hand, is pretty and fun and becomes his accomplice in the bedding incident, but she’s the girlfriend of Welch’s unpleasant son, Bernard.  I have to give Dixon credit for wisdom in not trying to force Christine’s hand by blabbing about Bernard’s affair with Carol, a married woman.   In fact, Dixon has a number of commendable qualities, including being a decent judge of character and his ability to get in and out of some sticky situations of his own making.  His antics make him seem much more like a student who may not graduate than a professor who may get the boot.  Bear in mind, too, that this book was published in the 1950s, so that the humor is both retro and English.  This is my first Kingsley Amis novel, but perhaps I should have gone for one of his later, more serious novels.  For me, this one dragged, despite the terrific writing with lots of delightful metaphors and dialog that didn’t actually sound overly dated.  For example, his description of Dixon’s hangover as feeling like “he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police” made me feel Dixon’s pain.  And when he finally has to deliver his much-anticipated lecture on Merrie England, his nervousness and disorientation are palpable, and the mimicries are priceless.

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