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Lucky Jim (Penguin Decades)
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76 of 80 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon September 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
In the introduction to the Penguin edition of Kingsley Amis's 1954 novel "Lucky Jim," David Lodge puts forth several possible influences Amis relied upon when writing the novel. Probably the most significant theory advanced by Lodge is that Amis wrote his book with one eye on Graham Greene's novel, "The Heart of the Matter." Lodge convincingly argues that "Lucky Jim" is actually a comic inversion of Greene's story. Of course, if one has not read Greene's novel, this point may not register on the radar. But what is important is that Lodge proves to us that "Lucky Jim" is much more than a collection of funny scenes. Most will read this book because they have heard that it is uproariously funny, which it certainly is, as the book does contain enough humor to cheer up the most heartless people among us. However, don't get hung up on the humor and forget to look deeper.
"Lucky Jim" is set in the seemingly unfunny world of academia, specifically British academia. The hero of the story, James "Jim" Dixon, is a young man on the make, fresh out of school and dutifully working at his first real job; a position in the history department at an obscure provincial university. Jim really hates his job. This hatred stems from the cast of assorted characters Jim must put up with on a daily basis. Jim's biggest problem is Professor Welch, the head of the history department. Welch is a forgetful fool who holds Jim's future job in the palm of his hand. Then there is Margaret, a neurotic fellow lecturer who latches on to Jim and won't let him go. Welch's son Bertrand, an arrogant "artist" who torments Jim while flaunting his girlfriend Christine (who Jim quickly becomes enraptured with, creating a tension that leads to several hilarious confrontations between the Welch family and Jim) also makes an appearance. Rounding out the cast of quirky characters is an annoying student who knows more about medieval history than Jim.
Of course, Jim causes problems for himself with frightening regularity. He sets his bed on fire during a weekend retreat at the Welch's, delivers a lecture on "Merrie England" after imbibing way too much alcohol, and makes phony phone calls to the Welch house in an attempt to discredit Bertrand. The humor is classic British wit: slow and masterfully written in the way only the British can achieve. Jim's description of a hangover will bring a knowing chuckle from anyone who has ever downed too many at the bar. These scenes are extremely funny and help to drive the book to its happy conclusion.
Amis spends an enormous amount of time poking fun at the British upper class. Welch and his family are endlessly skewered as Jim constantly shows them up. That Jim ultimately conquers his enemies must be Amis's way of showing the ultimate triumph of the "commoner" over the entrenched British aristocracy. This tension reached an acme after World War II, when the British educational system expanded its programs to include the British lower classes (it is no mistake that Jim mentions his stint as a lowly soldier in the R.A.F. during the war, thus qualifying him as a sort of everyman hero).
What didn't work as well in "Lucky Jim" is the interaction between Jim and Christine. These encounters tend to be wordy and too steeped in emotional minutiae. Even some of the dialogue between Jim and Margaret ends up becoming rather tedious compared to the rest of the book. This is probably due to the comedic scenes in the book; they are so funny that everything else pales by comparison. But the dialogues do serve an important purpose in the story: they reveal the concerns of people trying to make their way in a world that places them at the bottom of the ladder.
"Lucky Jim" would make an excellent gift for anyone who needs a good cheering up. It also might help someone who is nervous about speaking in public for the first time (the embarrassment Jim suffers because of his drunken speech will show anyone that their attempt at oration cannot possibly approach the disastrous level Jim reaches). Any people submerged in the agonies of their pre-tenure years should also read this book. "Lucky Jim" is funny, eloquent, insightful, and should be read in conjunction with Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat" for the ultimate experience in British humor.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 1996
Format: Hardcover
When it was first published in 1954, it turned the author, Kingsley Amis (the father of Martin, also a fine author), into a celebrated writer and a spokesman for his generation, a position that he didn't seem to want or care about. The novel was "Lucky Jim," and it tells the story of a young academic, Jim Dixon, at work in one of England's provincial universities. The book is hilarious, from the first page (where Jim describes the physical sensation of hangover) to the last, when he leaves the shady groves of academia for a job with better pay in London. Along the way, Jim learns a lot about academic life--he hates recorder concerts, musical evenings, and academic pretentions--and he learns a lot of girls; his main preoccupation.

I keep thinking this book is ripe for a movie version, with someone like Daniel Day-Lewis as the title character; it was made into a film in the 1950s, but I've never seen it and the reviews are not great. The book remains a delight to read, however, and, like all good satires, has some serious points to make, about things that Amis detected, like pretentiousness. "Lucky Jim" is also noteworthy because it launched Amis's career, and he wrote novels, short stories, poems, and journalism for the rest of his life, which ended just last year. He's a very different writer from his son Martin (rumor has it he didn't like Martin's work all that much), but they both share a real gift for comic writing. It is a work that achieves that rare combination of being interesting in a literary sense, but also humorous and a real pleasure to read. I recommend it heartily.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
Kingsley Amis is one of my favorite writers, and Lucky Jim (1954) of course is probably his most famous novel. It's also his first novel, which makes him one of those writers who spent their entire career trying to live up to early success. Despite Lucky Jim's preeminent reputation, several later novels are at least as good: I'd mention as my personal favorites The Anti-Death League, The Green Man, Ending Up, The Alteration, and The Old Devils.

I think this is my third reading of Lucky Jim. It remains a very enjoyable book. It's the story of Jim Dixon, a history lecturer at a provincial English university shortly after the second world war. Jim is involved in an unsatisfactory relationship with a drippy fellow lecturer called Margaret Peel, who uses emotional blackmail such as implicit suicide attempts (she took sleeping pills after breaking with her previous boyfriend) to keep him on the string. He hates his job, and he hates his boss (Professor Welch) if anything even more, while worrying that he won't be retained for the next school year. He hates phoniness in general, particularly that represented by Professor Welch, who is into recreations of old English music (recorders and all).

The plot revolves mainly around Dixon's growing attraction to Christine Callaghan, a beautiful girl who is nominally Professor Welch's son Bertrand's girlfriend -- but Bertrand is also fooling around with a married woman, and he's a crummy artist to boot. Also, Dixon is working on a lecture about Merrie Olde Englande, which he hopes will impress Professor Welch enough that he can keep his job, but every sentence of which he hates. The resolution is predictable, if rather convenient for Dixon (involving a rich uncle of Christine's), but it satisfies. The book itself is really very funny: such set-pieces as Dixon's hangover-ridden lecture, and his disastrous drunken night at the Welch's, remain screams after multiple rereadings.

I should say that some things bother me a bit. Some of Dixon's stunts (such as stealing a colleague's insurance policies and burning them) seem, well, felonious. And of course Margaret Peel really is someone he's better off breaking up with, but the way Christine is presented as naturally good because she is beautiful does seem rather sexist. Still, all this can be laid to accurate description of a certain character -- and if we root for Jim (as we more or less naturally do), it should be with some uneasiness.

All this said, Lucky Jim is deservedly a classic of 20th Century fiction, and an enormously entertaining book. This edition includes an introduction by David Lodge, who is both an first rate writer of comic novels in the same mode as Lucky Jim, and a first rate critic as well.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
Though the sexual mores of Kingsley Amis's 1950's feels decidely quaint,Lucky Jim does not seem dated. The book is a riotous comedy that is satire at its greatest. Evelyn Waugh's reputation soars above that of Kinglsey Amis, but in most of Waugh's satires, like most satire in general, we care little about the characters. We care about Jim Dixon--Amis's greatest creation. Amis never wrote a better book than this, his first; he grew increasingly bitter and, while the later books are often more complex, none bring the pure satisfaction of this perfect gem.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
Obviously it's unanimous here...this is one of the most hilarious, moving, irreverent and wise books ever. Jim Dixon is a joy. I named my son after him in hopes that he would embody some of his kindly, mischievous, unpretentious & good-humored qualities.
Amis' writing is so fine, so perfectly crafted. It's an effortless read, but has so many layers of wisdom to it. I became a big fan after reading "Lucky Jim" and have since read and enjoyed many of his other books, but this remains far and away the all-time favorite. Sadly, his first book is also the last one to have an upbeat, humane, let-the-good-guy-win mindset.
Funniest description of a hangover I've ever read at the beginning of Chapter 6...
An unending pleasure of a book.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
This early masterpiece of Kingsley Amis inspires such peals of laughter and raves of admiration that it will put you in a good mood for a week after finishing it.
Jim Dixon is a World War II vet who has somehow become a medieval history lecturer at a provincial English university. He worries about keeping his job and meanwhile loathes the self-absorbed pedant who will decide whether to keep him or not: "No other professor in Great Britain, [Dixon] thought, set such store in being called Professor." With the axe hanging over his head Dixon falls for the girlfriend of his boss's son, Bertrand. A ruthless social-climbing artist, Bertrand is one of the most intolerable snobs I have come across in literature. You will be impressed by Dixon's campaign for the lady Christine-- sometimes carried on as much to prick Bertrand as to win her affection. Dixon is a remarkably funny character, and part of Amis's genius is that we like him far more than we should. He starts off rather childish, spitefully penciling moustache and glasses on a face in someone else's new magazine. As the plot moves along at an increasingly rapid pace, we see the necessary defense mechanisms in his many contorted facial expressions and pseudo-polite manner. So often does fear or calculation lead him to think one thing and say the opposite that the moment when he first does say exactly what he is thinking will move you to stand up and cheer.
LUCKY JIM had me putting it down often--not in boredom or disapproval, oh my, no!--I just had to pause time and time again to laugh and recover, to let Amis's brilliance sink in--his deceptively calm tone, his nimble use of the language. Occasionally Amis will turn a giggle-inducing phrase in the style of P.G. Wodehouse, but most of his humor is the unavoidable belly-aching kind. Funnier than and just as sharp as Evelyn Waugh, Amis's influence can be seen--albeit in much wackier fashion--in the 1990s novels of Stephen Fry.
Not just a comic novel, this, but a work of true and timeless literary merit. We shouldn't forget that Amis has Dixon wrestle with a few demons that are not put down easily by anyone. But I guarantee it won't be chance that will have you rolling on the floor if you pick up LUCKY JIM.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
Without a doubt the funniest book I have ever read. The added bonus: "Lucky Jim" surveys the dread one used to feel when hearing professors prattle on interminably; it gets to the nut of the ire one experiences when being confronted by self-important bores; it crystallizes the sense one has that all the really pretty girls are out of reach, and being snapped up by self-important bores and prattling professors. Though the phrase "life-affirming" is overused, trite and, frankly, almost always misused, in the case of "Lucky Jim," it is incredibly apt. This is the book I read when I just feel like nothing is working right, and that I'm a total impostor. Sorry to get all "Stuart Smalley," but there it is: "Lucky Jim" is side-splitting and whatever the opposite of "buzzkill" is.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 9, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"Lucky Jim" is Jim Dixon - who appears to be a most unlucky man. He recently landed a university teaching job, but he's miserable. Terrible at his job, Dixon is left wondering throughout the book whether his position will be continued. In addition to his job woes, he seems to have great contempt for most everyone around him, including his neurotic girlfriend, Margaret. Things worsen when he's invited for a weekend of music at a senior professor's home and he meets the professor's son - Bertrand. A buffoonish artist, Bertrand nevertheless has an alluring girlfriend, the lovely Christine. Dixon unsurprisingly is drawn to Christine, despite her stuffy manner and seeming arrogance. Embarrassing Bertrand and stealing away Christine become him main priority. In the meantime, he still needs to prepare a lecture on "Merrie England" that will be attended by his superiors and local town dignitaries. Will he survive?
The novel is a model of dry British wit - at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. Dixon is a fantastic literary character - a cynic who personifies the scorn we all feel at times. As Amis writes about Dixon, "all his faces were designed to express rage or loathing." In addition to his cynicism, Dixon is incredibly irresponsible and engages in all sorts of mischievousness, resulting in hilarious predicaments. Nevertheless, you cannot help but root for him to succeed.
The writing is spectacular - each scene bristles with detail and nuance. In particular, Amis beautifully portrays difficult interpersonal situations frankly and accurately, replete with requisite humor. Although the book drags at times, it's a first-rate read. Most highly recommended, particularly for readers who enjoy novels set in academia.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2001
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
  Some people--a few who have written reviews here--don't seem to find Lucky Jim very funny. It's their loss. The rest of us think this book is hilarious. Read the opening paragraph of chapter 6: if you don't think it's the best description of a hangover, pass this book by. But I think you'll be hooked.
And it isn't really a satire: for those of us who teach, it's hard to find one thing that is out of place in Lucky Jim. Senior professors are still, often, bores and pedants; many women professors still like to dress like peasants; and most of us find that our classes attract the Michie's of this world rather than the three pretty girls.
It's so funny that it's easy to overlook how well constructed, and how well written, this novel is.
The only thing wrong with Lucky Jim is the horrible cover on the most recent Penguin edition. (But horrible covers are themselves a venerable academic tradition.)
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Lucky Jim remains one of the funniest books I have ever read, and Jim Dixon one of the most engaging anti-heroes. Sure, the book is a little dated in terms of the society it satirizes, but so what? Jim is still hilarious, Neddy Welch is still a pompous old fool who gets what he deserves, Margaret is the attention-seeking neurotic we've all met, and Tristram is still odious and still instantly recognizable in any self-consciously "arty" group. I love Jim's story--he is lucky, but he deserves his luck more than most. Amis wrote a very funny book that has held its ground, despite the vast social and economic changes that have taken place since Lucky Jim was written, because he targets human foibles and pretensions that men (and women) will always be prey to.
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