Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sixth Review: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

A) Clearly I forgot to publish this back in September, like I said I would. B) It had actually been a year and a half since I read the book when I finally finished the review last month. In any case, here ya go.

It's been months since I read this book (I finished it in March), so, unfortunately, I expect this review will suffer a bit in quality due to that delay.

As I believe I mentioned in one of my first postings, one of my favorite books is Straight Man by Richard Russo. (It is one of those books that I find, literally, laugh-out-loud funny.) The Main Squeeze; his brother; and our friend, A, have all read it, and see Lucky Jim as a companion book of sorts. They have been recommending it for years, and I took advantage of the CBR-II to finally read it.

Although I see where they are coming from: this novel also takes place at a college and highlights some of the ridiculous aspects of academia, and it involves plenty of funny scenes; however, it did not grab me the way that Straight Man did. I think part of my lack of adoration stems from the number of embarrassing situations--embarrassing scenes make me terribly uncomfortable. What also makes me uncomfortable, are situations where you can see that the protagonist is about to make a mistake or is making a poor decision and you just want to make them stop. But, of course, you just have to go along for the ride and watch them bumble along (I stopped reading An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England because the main character WOULD NOT STOP BUMBLING!) That happens a lot in this book, the protagonist, James Dixon, if given the opportunity to make a poor decision, will do so. As a reader, I found this frustrating. I think my friends who recommended the book found that aspect funny. Go figure.

Lucky Jim was first published in 1954, so one of the fascinating things is to see how little academia, specifically the politics of it, has changed in the past 50+ years. Honestly, read this book and Straight Man and you'll see what I mean. As someone who works in higher ed, it's always fun to see this aspect not only portrayed, but also mocked.

Dixon is a likable enough character and I definitely found myself hoping things would work out for him; however, he did seem determined to sabotage himself left and right. His perspective on various aspects of his professional and personal life could be best described as mirthfully grim. Although he's mostly pessimistic, he does hold out faint hope that things might turn out all right and his gallows sense of humor carries him through the ridiculous situations in which he finds/puts himself in.

So, yes, I would recommend this book. Especially if you work in academia or are in graduate school. And if you haven't already read (regardless of your connection to higher ed--I read it when I was no longer in school and not working in higher ed) Straight Man, get your hands on that book pronto!