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Old 06-06-2017, 12:22 AM   #1
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Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, Lucky Jim remains as trenchant, withering, and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954. This is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Kingsley Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores, cranks, frauds, and neurotics with whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy.

More than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy postwar manners, Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom, whatever form they may take, and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing, from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh. As Christopher Hitchens has written, “If you can picture Bertie or Jeeves being capable of actual malice, and simultaneously imagine Evelyn Waugh forgetting about original sin, you have the combination of innocence and experience that makes this short romp so imperishable.” (Goodreads.)

This is the MR Literary Club selection for June 2017. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time, and guests are always welcome! So, what are your thoughts on it?


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Old 06-06-2017, 09:29 AM   #2
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I should be starting on this by the end of this week or beginning of next. I'm excited to read it; it's been in my sights or at least on my periphery forever (and it's among countless varied books that I've wanted to read for so long that I couldn't possibly remember them all to add to my Goodreads to-read lists when I started there). Also when perusing the choices this month, I noticed that three of my Goodreads friends have read it and they all give it five stars out of five, so high praise all round.
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Old 06-06-2017, 02:08 PM   #3
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I'm looking forward to reading Lucky Jim. I just started reading Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall as well, so it will be interesting to me to compare their approaches.
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Old 06-07-2017, 09:54 AM   #4
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That should make an interesting (and amusing) comparison.

I'm just about to launch into Lucky Jim. Just wanted to say I did enjoy watching the voting - it's quite a spectator sport!
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Old 06-12-2017, 06:43 AM   #5
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I finished reading Lucky Jim yesterday, and have been continuing to enjoy it in retrospect. I keep thinking of scenes where one disaster is piled on top of another, and laugh out loud all over again.

How have I got through life to date without having read this hilarious book? I can't imagine! Hard to pick a favourite moment, though this one comes close, as Dixon contemplates the awful Bertrand Welch:

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For a moment he felt like devoting the next ten years to working his way to a position as art critic on purpose to review Bertrand's work unfavourably.
Other favourite moments have to include the matter of the bedclothes and the table, and of course Dixon's lecture on Merrie England towards the end of the book.

I do hope everyone else gets as much enjoyment out of this book as I did. Thank you all for choosing it.
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Old 06-17-2017, 02:36 PM   #6
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I'm about 20% in and if I can get away from Irwin's Companion to the Nights, I should be able to finish it reasonably quickly as it has considerable entertainment value with some remarkably vivid characters. Certainly it is hilarious, though the frequently mordant humour sometimes has a disturbing touch of cruelty.
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Old 06-25-2017, 01:48 PM   #7
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I'm about halfway through at the moment - the taxi ride. The book is remarkable for the amount of physical humour; I sometimes feel that I am watching a Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd film.

There is the repeated making of extraordinary noises, as in
"he began speaking almost in a shout, with a tremolo imparted by unshared laughter"
"he threw back his head, filled his lungs, and let loose a loud and prolonged bray of rage"
"he threw back his head and gave a long trombone-blast of anarchistic laughter"

The repeated making of peculiar facial expressions, or imagined facial expressions:
"...tried to flail his features into some sort of response to humour. Mentally, however, he was making a different face and promising himself he’d make it actually when next alone. He’d draw his lower lip in under his top teeth and by degrees retract his chin as far as possible, all this while dilating his eyes and nostrils. By these means he would, he was confident, cause a deep dangerous flush to suffuse his face."
"Dixon knew that before the journey ended he’d find his face becoming creased and flabby, like an old bag, with the strain of making it smile and show interest and speak its few permitted words, of steering it between a collapse into helpless fatigue and a tautening with anarchic fury."

"He pushed his tongue down in front of his lower teeth, screwed up his nose as tightly as he could, and made gibbering motions with his mouth."

"He found himself wanting to make the kind of face or noise he was accustomed to make when entrusted with a fresh ability-testing task by Welch ... He wanted to implode his features, to crush air from his mouth, in a way and to a degree that might be set against the mess of feelings she aroused in him: indignation, grief, resentment, peevishness, spite, and sterile anger, all the allotropes of pain."

That is extended in his drawing of the face on the cover of Johns' magazine.

There are the violent fantasies of his responses to some characters, especially Welch:
"He pretended to himself that he’d pick up his professor round the waist, squeeze the furry grey-blue waistcoat against him to expel the breath, run heavily with him up the steps, along the corridor to the Staff Cloakroom, and plunge the too-small feet in their capless shoes into a lavatory basin, pulling the plug once, twice, and again, stuffing the mouth with toilet-paper."

"nor did he, on the whole, now intend to tie Welch up in his chair and beat him about the head and shoulders with a bottle until he disclosed why, without being French himself, he’d given his sons French names"

The description of the sensation of passing out drunk is wonderful.
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Old 07-09-2017, 11:40 PM   #8
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Great ending - a wonderful book.
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Old 07-10-2017, 10:53 PM   #9
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Is Dixon more like Bertie Wooster, Harry Flashman, or Hooper (Brideshead Revisited)?
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Old 07-23-2017, 01:34 PM   #10
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I found the book absolutely hilarious. In an earlier comment about Lucky Jim, I referred to a certain "cruelty" which made me uneasy. I was thinking of the portrayal of Margaret. I thought it cruel that someone so emotionally fragile that she would attempt suicide could be presented in a comic manner. However, I put that feeling in storage as I read and, sure enough, Amis had a superb twist on that situation. It turns out that Margaret was an emotional vampire who had no intention of actually taking her own life--she only used the threat to create in others a particularly nasty guilt feeling. She would then employ this to control their feelings towards her.

Bfisher commented on the humour as having an equivalence with the physical comedy we see in slapstick films. I think that insight is one of the core aspects of the book. An example that had me laughing out loud was the point where Walsh has a losing battle with a revolving door!

I too loved that ending!

Lucky Jim is one of the most enjoyable reading experience I have had for some time.

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Old 08-12-2017, 11:37 PM   #11
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I really enjoyed this book. I've rarely read many Humour books and I can be fickle with them (isn't everyone fickle with humour?), but my hopes were up on this one because of its reputation and because I have a soft spot for an academia-world focus. I wasn't disappointed. I was laughing so hard in some spots!

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Originally Posted by bfisher View Post
I'm about halfway through at the moment - the taxi ride. The book is remarkable for the amount of physical humour; I sometimes feel that I am watching a Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd film.
It's funny you should say that. I thought this was probably the most cinematic book I've ever read; it just felt somehow like I was reading a film. It makes me wonder how the actual film of it holds up.
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