Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amisâ€™s first novel, was published in 1954 and promptly entered the pantheon of British postwar literature. Itâ€™s just been reissued by the invaluable New York Review Books Classics, which is the literary equivalent of receiving a case of Laphroaig. Our hero, Jim Dixon, a young university lecturer, grapples with a stream of improbable academic cranks, pretentious artists, neurotic women, a vengeful oboist and his own self-destructive streak. The novel is trenchant, knowing and audaciously misanthropic. It may be the funniest book ever written.
Yes, thatâ€™s an absurd statement (Jim himself would surely raise an eyebrow at such a sweeping claim). But Lucky Jim remains the benchmark for satire, misbehavior and the absurd demands of adult life. Strangely, some Lucky Jim partisans struggle through the bookâ€™s opening the first time they read it. In fact, itâ€™s not uncommon for people to take pause before they plow their way through it. Why is that? Like watching Shakespeareâ€™s plotting villains or early episodes of Deadwood, it takes some time to acclimate yourself to the incredibly specific, rarefied language. But that makes it sound as if itâ€™s an exalted enterprise: itâ€™s not.
When you get up to speed you are thrilled to access to Jimâ€™s worldview, even as the world conspires against him.Â Amis is a master of conveying Jimâ€™s staggering disbelief at the foolishness he encounters every day. Naturally, he brings trouble on himself: he famously falls asleep while still smoking a cigarette, goes on a sherry bender before addressing the grandees of his school, and agrees to participate in a recital only to discover that he has a solo. He also endures through one of the most epic hangovers described in print.Â Yes, this is Jimâ€™s plight. Itâ€™s our pleasure to experience his suffering. And that makes it all the more satisfying to share his unlikely triumph. â€”DAVID COGGINS