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Friday, 14 November 2014

Review: Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim



Published in 1954, this book is still funny to this English reader 60 years later. It’s probably a very English kind of humour: it belongs to the world of Carry On films and there is a connection between the novel’s Jim Dixon and Mr Bean: both use facial contortions to express their feelings when they think they are unobserved.

It relies heavily on caricature, some of which modern readers may find offensive. Kingsley Amis, like George Orwell, has no time for poseurs with beards and berets or limp wrists and fancy names. In fact, anything which suggests upper middle class Bohemia or self-indulgent provincial academia.

 His principal character, Jim Dixon, may also be found offensive, addicted as he is to alcohol, tobacco, nasty practical jokes and failing to get his act together. A lot of the book is Carry On  Up The University.

In his Introduction to the novel, David Lodge makes out a case for Dixon as a morally serious character, searching for authenticity in an inauthentic world and finding it in the (rather stereotyped) shape of the shapely Christine. It’s pushing it a bit: true, he does make a real effort to secure Christine but he’s greatly helped by a stroke of luck, the offer of a job in London for which he has not applied. Whether landing on his feet will improve him remains, at the end of the book, an open question. He may simply rely on more Luck to get him out of future scrapes.

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