Sunday, September 5, 2010

#16 - "Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis

Luck Jim is finished, number sixteen on The List.  Good progress has been made after taking so long to finish To The Lighthouse over the summer months.  As much a humour novel as a character study, Kingsley Amis is able to combine laughs with a great story, making Lucky Jim a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Amis' first novel follows a regular guy, a college professor, as he struggles with social gaffes, awkward situations and for the most part failure in every aspect of his life, be it socially or professionally.  Jim Dixon is described as an unlucky man.  Of course, like everybody who considers themselves to be "unlucky", he puts himself in these situations everyday.  Most of Jim's shortcomings arise from his childish behaviours or his yearning for strong drink.  Not really a matter of luck, but what makes Jim different is he doesn't seem to care.

Part of a post-war class of Britons who weren't as concerned with upward mobility or more precisely nobility, as previous generations, Jim Dixon doesn't aspire to be anything he isn't.  He is content having a job at a middle of the road college in rural England.  He doesn't strive to become a department head, and he doesn't aspire to move up to a college in London.  He just wants to be able to earn a steady paycheck with minimum effort, that allows him to enjoy a few pints every night from the local pub.  Maybe he isn't so unlucky after all, maybe he's actually quite lucky.  How many people are fortunate enough to know their place int he world, and not get caught up in trying to reach unreachable goals?

The book won the Somerset Maugham award for fiction in 1955, which is handed out each year to an author under the age of thirty-five.  Almost fittingly, both the novel's protagonist and author disgusted the award's namesake, Somerset Maugham.  Part of the old guard and a grand pupa of inter-war British literature, Maugham described both the book, it's characters and it's author as 'scum.'  He hated the change they represented in the post-war period, a move from nobility to equality, complaining about people on 'government loans' being able to attend college, and only for the purpose of 'getting a job', not for cultural enlightenment.  The horrors!  I think it's safe to say this probably gave young Amis lot of satisfaction and accomplished exactly what he set out to do in his writing.


Kingsley Amis' son Martin Amis also has a book on The List, Money.

Evelyn Waugh is mentioned in Lucky Jim.  So far, there's been one mention of one book from The List in another (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in The Corrections) and now a mention of an author from The List in a book from The List.

You can read Time Magazine's orginial review from May 27, 1957 right here.

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