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3.7 out of 5 stars143
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 4 November 2001
Lucky Jim is one of Amis's best works, filled with intense humour, false bravado and absurd characters. The 'hero' Jim Dixon, is intially engulfed by the diverse scope of the eccentric social group with which he finds himself into at University, his students and collegues alike causing him no end of problems. Speaking as a student I find the novel to be in parts painfully close to reality, particularly in Jim's dealings with his over-keen student Michie, and the general irreverent nature of university life, despite the fact that it is set over forty years ago, it is still a humourous and well-recorded version of campus life. Overall the main strengths of the novel are its varied cast of characters whose imbecility, social ineptitude or plain naivety constantly amuse the reader throughout, whilst the climax is a fitting end to Jim's trials both socially, intellectually and morally. Deeply funny.
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on 13 October 2014
I read this book in paperback thirty-odd years ago. Something clicked for me straightaway. Its period was already past before I was born, but I had no trouble at all projecting a piece of post-war 1950s England in my imagination. I read it again several times, laughing out loud at something in every chapter. How many novels actually have that effect ? For me, Kingsley Amis achieved that comic effect and that sheer ease of reading by a simple trick - using more or less plain English but crafting it brilliantly. Take one short incident, where Jim finds an old archery target in a corner of his arty-crafty professor's rambling house: 'What flaring imbecilities must it have witnessed ?' he wonders. And that's it, the plot moves on. No need for an account of any actual experiments with archery, no dwelling on the back story of another set of characters - this is a fairly snappy, single-point-of view story. One telling phrase, a verbal equivalent of rolling your eyes and snorting with disbelief, and the picture is complete; you can imagine not only those flaring imbecilities with bows and arrows, but almost smell the dust in the attic where they've been dumped.

Fighting his way out of a dusty attic could be a metaphor for what our hero Jim Dixon is doing in this story. He's stuck in world of limited options, not sure how to go further. A working-class grammar school boy (remember those ?) who has scraped a lecturing job in an un-named provincial university, cheekily sticking his nose into a world of drawing-room music recitals where the unavailable prettiest girl in the room and her artist boyfriend talk about chaps they know from the BBC. He gets his girl in the end of course, and a plum job too - the clue is in the title. But that doesn't spoil the plot one little bit. You'll be rooting for Lucky Jim all the way through, right to the hilarious end. How does he get what he wants ? A bit of cleverness; a bit of perseverance; but mostly he's just lucky, right at the moment when he seems to have screwed up everything.

A joy to have this stupidly funny book on my Kindle (even with a few typos) three decades after I first discovered it and sixty years after it was published.
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on 13 March 2007
I am in complete agreement with the 14 year old boy who found this absolute classic in with his dad's old books. I bought this for £2 out of the university bookshop bargain bin when I was in first year at university ( I should add I am 27 so no old fogey) and vaguely remembered seeing Terry-Thomas as Bertrand ("AH SAAAAM") in some old black and white sick-day film on a tuesday afternoon. I started reading it on the train home and didn't stop till I was done. I was actually shocked to see that people hated this and found it dated or "middle-class" (I assume that's meant to be pejorative?). This has to be one of the funniest novels of all time - particularly all the fighting talk "Would you like a slap?" "Not much" and Jim's ability to turn any situation to his complete disadvantage.

I now have a theory that the reason this novels appeals so much to some and not to others is that the world is divided into Bertrands and Jims - the former definitely would hate this book. They'd be into magic realism or something. If you like this you will almost definitely like "Take a Girl like You" which is almost the same book with the characters shifted round a bit but slightly less funny - apart from Julian Ormerod who is pant-wettingly hilarious. Every time I read either of these I crease up and for a long time after I read Lucky Jim even thinking about it was enough to set me off. Buy two copies cos you'll loan one to your friend and never see it again.
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on 8 April 2002
I'm not one of those people who ever laughs out loud at any book. However, even I found myself emitting the occasional snort at the humorous situations that Jim Dixon gets himself into. Nearly fifty years on it's still all relevant: the English man's clumsiness with women, the academic pomposity and the battle with one's superiors.
Amis builds up the characters wonderfully and writes in such a fluent and full style. This was my first Kingsley Amis book, but it won't be my last.
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on 15 November 2011
I'd never read any Kingsley Amis before reading this, his most famous novel. I found the themes and the characters interesting and I found myself chuckling quite a lot at the absurdity of some of the characters' behaviours. I enjoyed the window into 1950's England, with it's strange social conventions and even stranger personalities! Jim is billed as an anti-hero, but I confess that I quite liked him, mainly due to the fact that he was often thinking exactly what I am thinking in forced, dull social situations. He finds most other people rather dull and uninteresting and I can relate to that! My advice would be to read this very funny book but to have a dictionary to hand as Amis uses quite a lot of archaic langauge that may not be familiar to a modern audience.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 October 2015
At the very end of the 1960s, I studied at University of Wales, University College, Swansea, where the author lectured in English between 1949-61. First published in 1954, ‘Lucky Jim’ was the author’s first novel and quickly established itself as one of the great British comic novels alongside the works of Dickens, P. G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ and so on.

Returning to this book after many years, it has clearly aged rather ungracefully.
However, whilst this certainly reduced my overall enjoyment, this was balanced by meeting again so many ghastly and hapless characters. The [very] provincial setting allows the author to attack academic inertia, bourgeois convention and artistic pretension within a small History Department. Its hero, Jim Dixon, is a northerner who is on two years’ probation and is increasingly worried whether his position will be renewed. Not that he is working flat out, rather he is editing his boss’s work, taking on minor lecturing duties and has chosen to specialise in medievalism because this seemed to be the easiest option. His coursework is designed to entice women students who, obviously, ‘were not up to rigorous intellectual challenge’.

His personal life is similarly bleak, his ‘girlfriend’ Margaret, pathetic and monstrous in equal part, is recovering from a suicide attempt after the breakup of an earlier relationship. Amis’ characteristic spleen against whatever he loathed – the affectation of the Common Room and weekend soirees, assertive women and insufficient income to cover his need for beer and cigarettes Is already evidential, though it is refreshing that all this is offered without the cursing and swearing that mark his later books.

As a character Dixon does not develop, continuing to make gibberish faces [‘all his faces were designed to express rage or loathing. Now that something had happened which really deserved a face, he had none to celebrate it with. As a kind of token, he made his S** L*** in Ancient Rome face.’], howl and grind his teeth whilst continuing to prove fickle and untrustworthy [nowhere more stark than in his treatment of Margaret].

He is fearful of everything and everyone and disinclined to address any of life’s difficulties [‘How wrong people always were when they said: 'It's better to know the worst than go on not knowing either way.' No; they had it exactly the wrong way round. Tell me the truth, doctor, I'd sooner know. But only if the truth is what I want to hear.’], averse to hard work and who rapidly creates in the reader feeling of sympathy for his students who are seeking an education in order to better themselves. One, an ex-service student ‘who had commanded a tank troop at Anzio whilst Dixon was an RAF corporal in western Scotland’ is seen by Dixon, and perhaps Amis, as someone who is passionate about his studies and is therefore worth ridicule.

The dedication is to Philip Larkin who, apparently, stimulated the idea for the story. There are some wonderfully comic scenes, not least Dixon’s typically unprepared lecture to his senior academics. However, there is nothing against which to judge this privileged class. The Britain of the mid-1950s was one where most men had to put up with arduous working conditions and where education was seen as a way of self-improvement.

Although Margaret is the most complex and interesting character her story is described with a coldness that tells the reader more about the writer than his character. Her fate seems to be a result of her inadequacies, mental, physical and social. The fact that being surrounded by so many selfish male characters might have contributed to her problems is not even considered, she is to blame: ‘What a pity it was, [Dixon] thought, that she wasn’t better-looking, that she didn’t read articles in the three-halfpenny press that told you what lipstick went with what natural colouring. With twenty per cent more of what she lacked in these ways, she’d never have run into any of her appalling difficulties: the vices and morbidities bred of loneliness would have remained safely dormant until old age.’ Sadly only 3/5.
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...well, maybe the last two, but as others, notably Mary McCarthy, in The Groves of Academe (Transaction Large Print) have depicted, there seems to be nothing collegial about professional lives purportedly dedicated to the pursuit of higher knowledge. This is the novel that established Kingsley Amis' reputation, and remains his most famous work. Regrettably, rather late in life, it is the first work of his that I have read. If you like your novels with heroic characters, whose actions should serve as a role model for you, or your children, well, this novel is not for you.

The story is told from the point of view of Jim Dixon, a junior professor, in his first year at one of the newly opened provincial universities after World War II. He is the proverbial square peg being jammed into a round hole; he is neurotic, dysfunctional and alienated, as are most of the characters. Wartime austerity is slowly loosening its grip; he lives in a boarding house, and counts his cigarettes out, not for health reasons, but rather financial ones. Early on, we are introduced to one of the perennial curses of academic life: the "publish or perish" mantra. Plagiarism is the essential aspect of the denouement to that theme. The exigencies of organizational life, the need to impress one's superiors, and appear to be a good "team player," best expressed by a couple earthy epithets that would never make it past the censor, permeate the tale. Philandering, mainly of the unrequited variety, is also a dominant theme. As in other "drawing room" novels, the sexual and financial dynamics are omnipresent, and one "needs a scorecard to tell who the players are."

Amis has a fine ear for dialogue, and utilizes it brilliantly to draw and define his characters. The humor can be laugh out loud (LOL) hilarious. To mention one scene, Dixon is trying to obtain a straight answer for the History Chairmen, Welch, if he will be re-contracted for a second year. Welch bloviates, almost certainly unintentionally, about any subject but... the issue at hand. In another scene, one woman is nominally complimenting another, naturally a potential rival (aren't they all?) but Dixon knows what is coming, so he "...tensed himself for the inevitable qualification... `I don't like women of that age who try to act the gracious lady. Bit of a prig, too.'" One of the women plots to have Dixon "take out" a rival. Is the novel sexist? Well, for sure, the women don't come off very well, and it is the `50's, but the men are certainly portrayed "on an equal opportunity basis," that is, badly.

And there is the "trans-Atlantic" issue, and since it is all about "not getting it," perhaps the best way to describe the problem is the French phrase, "je ne sais quoi" quality of British humor. Even when I am playing "at the top of my game," I only seem to "get" about 80% of it, and I remain disconcerted that there is something deep, and intrinsic to the culture of the British Isles that I just don't understand. No doubt this is one of the reasons I found certain sections of the book a bit tedious. Still, there were numerous "takeaways" that shall linger long, from "diuretic coffee," to "aureole of choking nonsense," to "Yes, I know women are all dead keen on marrying men they don't much like."

This particular edition has an introduction by David Lodge. Among other matters, he compares the Amis with one of his contemporaries, Graham Greene, and in particular, his novel, The Heart Of The Matter It is worth searching for this edition just for Lodge's intro. Overall, a 5-star read, on the way academic life was, in Britain, in the `50's, and probably still is.
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on 3 October 2015
Recently, I bumped into an old girlfriend of mine (went out with her in the late 1960s, when I was in my late teens) and thought how badly she had aged over the last almost 50 years; I, of course, have not changed - well, maybe, a bit more weight, one or two fewer teeth, a bit less hair, cannot run as fast (cannot really run at all, since my back went), my idea of a good night is now one where I do not have to get up and visit the bathroom several times, etc.
Around the time I was going out with her, I read Lucky Jim for the first time and thought it was brilliant; reading it for the second time, I wish I had not bothered, as it has aged badly - full of cardboard, stereotype characters; attempts at humour are contrived, barely warranting a grunt, and are certainly not "preposterously funny" and "laugh out loud".
I think that everything which needs saying is said far more eloquently than I can do by Miriam Day in her one star review.
Anyway, that's one more off my books to revisit list.
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on 15 March 2010
Written in the early 1950s, Lucky Jim serves as a testament to the constants of professional life at provincial British universities. The uncertain futures of junior lecturers, their need to publish, to please their immediate superiors, and to forge a life (and lifestyle) somewhat removed from their place of origin. Whatever the stresses and uncertainties of academic life today, Lucky Jim reminds readers that none of its problems are novel. Nevertheless, the world Amis captures and caricatures is very different from our own. Provincial universities have long ceased to be backwaters, and the numbers of lecturers and students has increased massively, as have the pressures to publish. Only job certainty has decreased. Often described as a comic novel, it is the sections that still resonate today which are among the funniest. But much of the narrative is (intentionally) humourless, and if anything demonstrates why universities, for better or for worse, have become as they are today.
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on 8 March 2001
I first read this book years ago and have just re-read it, wondering whether it would still make me crack up. It did! I read ages ago that what makes people laugh is having your characters say or do things that everybody thinks or does, but nobody ever talks about. I still think the episode where Jim burns the sheets, tries to cover it up and dreads getting found out, is absolutely classic. Of course this is practically a historical novel now; anyone with an elderly relative who constantly says, 'We were damn hard up...' should read this. Poor old Jim, wondering whether he can afford another half... For anyone who wasn't there, and doesn't believe it really ever existed, it's also a brilliant insight into the pre-pill, pre shagshagshag era. Read this, pity your aged relatives, and have a really good laugh.
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