Review: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

2 comments

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis book cover
Lucky Jim (1954) is a comic novel about the travails of young academic Jim Dixon and the stuffy pretensions of the university where he is employed. Throughout the novel Jim stumbles from one embarrassing event to another as he tries desperately to ingratiate himself with senior academic staff, in particular the pompous Welch, and protect his job in the history department. On top of this he is caught up with the difficult and rather plain Margaret, whilst falling for the hopelessly attractive (and unavailable) Christine.

The novel is in many ways one of the sharpest social commentaries of 1950s Britain, foreshadowing the rise of a dissatisfied youth that demanded a new society and greater social mobility. Kingsley Amis was undoubtedly one of this generation and Lucky Jim was clearly pertinent to its time, however, a modern reader might find the cultural landscape, where deference to the social order was expected, to be a little remote. Jim, though, is the great antidote to this; his anxieties and response to the pomposity that surrounds him wholly translate to modern times and have given the work an enduring quality. 

Unlike many of Amis’s later protagonists Jim Dixon is a likeable and sympathetic character - the reader roots for him as he bounces from one uncomfortable and hilarious encounter to the next. In this sense Lucky Jim is a typical English satire, wherein a well-intentioned hero collides with a string of irritants, some trivial others more weighty. 

The language too is bright and the sentences artfully arranged. The ending has been rightly criticised for being too idealised and unrealistic, but, although both elements of the social commentary, and of the humour may have aged since its original publication, Lucky Jim remains a funny, involving, and relevant story about pretension and making your way in the world. 

Lucky Jim is a light and enjoyable read. Although some of the issues discussed are fairly weighty the overall tone is much lighter than Amis's later works. A really good English comic classic.


Useful Links
Reviews of Lucky Jim on Amazon (UK)
TV adaptation of Lucky Jim on Amazon (UK)

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2 comments:

Petra said...

One of my favourite books. I've heard some people say it's outdated, and therefore not a really good book. But I agree with you, it still works. I have to reread it! :)

Petra

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

Totally agree Petra. I think some of the book does age a little, but don't all books ages eventually? I really love the humour, it's a compact and tightly written novel that is great fun.