Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
Lucky Jim is a novel by Kingsley Amis, and was published in 1954. It was Amis’ first novel, and won the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction. His full title was Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE and he was a noted English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher who wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. He was born in Clapham, Wandsworth, London, England, and his father, William Robert Amis, was a mustard manufacturer’s clerk. He was educated at the City of London School, and went up to St. John’s College, Oxford to read English. He met Philip Larkin there, and they became close friends.
After only a year at University, Amis was called up for Army service. He served in the Royal Corps of Signals in the Second World War before returning to Oxford in 1945 to complete his degree with first class honours. So this book was one I had always felt I should read, but I had never got around to doing so until my book group at the local library promoted it as our book of the month recently.
It took me awhile to get into the book, but once I reached the second half I was laughing so much howling so loudly with glee I got scared that I might disturb the neighbours. I cannot remember the last book that made me actually giggle.
Well, this book is silly. There is a lot of physical comedy in it that you have to visualise in your mind. The main character is always making funny faces, which is strange in a novel. Much of the humor is the cringe-inducing, bumbling foot-in-mouth, downward-spiraling catastrophe type of incidents. Due to Amis’s use of language is beautiful, and it all worked perfectly. It made me laugh and laugh.
This is the classic campus satire written in the 1950s by Angry Young Man Kingsley Amis, and it includes literature’s definitive description of a hangover. Amis creates very real characters. The relationship between Jim and Margaret is so chillingly life like, and the point that he is crazy about the bland, personality-deficient pretty girl is quite realistic. Much of the book depicts Amis’s own struggle with the British class system. In his Memoirs, Amis stated that one of his discoveries at Oxford was that he had “a head for drink”. In this book, his characters do drink a good deal, usually with rollicking results.
The book easily coaxed belly laughs out of me. I do not want to give too much away, but for example Jim accidentally sets fire to his bedclothes while staying overnight at his professor’s home; he clumsily attempts to hide his accidental arson from the professor’s wife; he brawls with the horrible Bernard (his professor’s son); he boxes Bernard’s ear; he romances Bernard’s girl; finally he delivers his drunken lecture on ‘Merrie England’ to a huge frumpy audience, which finally ends his academic career. All this is beautifully drawn. If you have not yet read this book, I commend it to you heartily.