not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
this post was originally published on my Goodreads account.
“It was one of those days when he felt quite convinced of his impending expulsion from academic life. What would he do afterwards? Teach in a school? Oh dear no. Go to London and get a job in an office. What job? Whose office? Shut up.”
Sometimes the right book comes along at exactly the right time. I have to admit right off that I may not have rated Lucky Jim quite so highly if it weren’t coming at the tail-end of my own experiences with academia- an experience that, while more positive than Jim Dixon’s has left me with the similar sense that “we’re bad for each other- they waste my time, and I waste theirs.” Amis’s book is a baggy in its plotting, a bit predictable, and so precisely wrong about human nature in one or two ways that it becomes a testament to what insight the author did have – some of his conclusions are the literary equivalent of getting a math equation perfectly right, but forgetting to multiply by the negative. But to cavil about the details, for me, would be like having a friend stop by at exactly the moment you’re feeling incredibly depressed, and getting mad at him for wearing a shirt with a food stain on it. Don’t nitpick, not now. Just be grateful he’s here at all.
And what a lot there is to be grateful for! This may have been the perfect point in my life to read Lucky Jim, but I can’t think of any point where I wouldn’t have burst out laughing at least ten times in its approximately 200 pages. The situations are inspired, the dialogue sharp, and Jim’s internal monologue is painfully recognizable even as it reaches heights of sarcastic brilliance above anything my monological capabilities permit. I understand the character of Jim was based on the poet Philip Larkin, to whom the book is dedicated, so readers who identify with Jim should not be reassured by his fate unless they are as skilled at their thing as Larkin was at his. But the rest of us can at least take comfort in knowing someone else has felt what we felt, and managed to retain a sense of humor about the whole thing.