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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Classic of English humour now showing its age, 25 April 2005
This review is from: Lucky Jim (Paperback)
"Lucky Jim" was Kingsley Amis' first novel, effectively written in collaboration with his friend, the poet, Philip Larkin. The idea came during a visit to Larkin at Leicester University in 1948 - Amis sent drafts to Larkin, Larkin returned them, heavily edited.
First published in 1954, Amis introduces Jim Dixon, a junior lecturer at an English provincial university. Dixon is approaching the end of his first, probationary year and his senior, Professor Welch, is far from impressed. Jim stands little chance of being reappointed. He does his best to ingratiate himself with the professor, but he's socially inept, apparently accident prone, especially when indulging in his predilection for beer, lacks interest in his appointed subject - medieval history - and is consumed by sexual frustrations and fantasies.
Dixon comes from the north of England, from the lower middle classes, from a world which is alien to the Oxbridge elite who dominate academic life ... even in a provincial university. Amis constructs humorous situation after humorous situation. Dixon's ineptitude is excruciating. His luck is a major theme - he doesn't seem to have any. Meanwhile, all around him are those who have been lucky enough to be born into the upper classes and who are unselfconsciously reaping the benefits of it.
In its time, "Lucky Jim" broke new ground in satirising the academic world. The characters in the novel portray the pretensions, sterility, and advantages of the class system. Although greeted as a radical piece of writing and seen as transforming humour, even satire, "Lucky Jim" now appears dated. It has lost much of its edge and seems unrecognisable as a work which threatened the status quo.
Its humour can now appear slapstick and trivial, the stuff of poor sitcoms. The class and sexual mores are set in another world. The rationing and shortages are certainly from another era. And the writing style has also aged - it's a bit laboured in places, a bit coy in others.
Amis, himself, was born in South London into a lower middle class family. He attended public school, then Oxford University and was commissioned into the Royal Signals for wartime army service. He emerged to teach at Swansea University, then Cambridge. From the early 1960's he wrote full-time.
Throughout his life Amis enjoyed a reputation as an outspoken wit. "Lucky Jim" remains a seminal piece of writing, but many contemporary readers will find its themes and style dated, its humour rather gentle compared to contemporary savagery. It's a very gentlemanly, very innocent, very English, and very middle class novel, still with its comic moments, but no longer with the edge and bite which earned it ... and Amis ... a radical reputation.
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