Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
This novel is what got the author famous, and if it is not quite as good a novel as one would hope, there are certainly plenty of reasons why it is a famous one. In reading this novel I was struck by how the protagonist was an early version of an edge lord. He is not exactly a nice person–though he is put upon he is somewhat lazy, loves making prank calls, and is somewhat callous towards women and sharp-witted in his conversations with others. He has a lot of faces–most of them ironic poses or critical looks–and seems unable to tell a lie without an obvious tell on his face, making him the sort of person who is undeservedly given credit as an honest man when he is really a bad liar. If you are looking for the place where it become easy enough to see where Buckley (of YouTube’s A Dose Of Buckley) and others like him became a matter of record in literature, this postwar novel marks the point where crabby young men became objects of sympathy for those who wanted to rage against an unfair world, just as their younger brothers are part of terrible and overrated books like A Separate Peace. This book is not terrible, but it’s not quite as good as the author wants it to be.
This novel is centered around Jim Dixon, a somewhat lazy lecturer of medieval history who finds himself put upon by his boss and attracted to the boss’ fiance, who comes off as one of those unpleasant sort of people for whom everything falls into place for him so easily that he takes it for granted. Jim, on the other hand, appears to be the sort of person who has to struggle for everything and tends to resent it. Resentment is at the core of this particular book and it’s not a good look even if it is easy enough to understand. Jim juggles a one-night stand with Christine, tries to break it off gently afterward with his on-again, off-again girlfriend he has been stringing along, and gets beat up and drunk before giving a catastrophically bad public lecture that leads to him getting fired and then getting a new job from Christine’s uncle. So although Jim does not appear to be very lucky for most of this book, he certainly ends up lucky and at least with a chance to grow up and become a better man, so that’s something.
It is hard to get a sense of what the author was trying to accomplish with this book. The author (and one of his close friends) form the inspiration of the titular character Jim Dixon, and there is a lot of raging against the unfairness of the world to be found here. Yet if Jim is portrayed as lazy, the author was able to write an entire novel of more than two hundred pages about his antics and if that is lazy, it is a type of laziness that can still lead to success. This sort of novel is the kind that looks at the life of an intelligent but wayward man who has clearly not grown up and is in a state of arrested development but wants to have the moral high ground in raging at the injustices of the world around him. Since many people happen to be in this position, it is little surprise that the book got popular and remains in print today. And having been made famous by a work like this, it is little surprise that the author had to pivot to rage about different subjects since its success made him part of that very unfair establishment this novel takes aim at. The fate of successful rebels is to become the establishment that they once threw stones at, I suppose.