Title: Lucky Jim
Author: Kingsley Amis
Publication date: 1954
Genre: Comic novel; campus novel
Jim Dixon is a hapless junior lecturer in a provincial English university, struggling through his probationary year. He juggles romantic escapades with pranks on colleagues, vain attempts to impress his boss and even more doomed attempts to avoid the work he hates so much. He pitches from disaster to triumph to disaster again, and yet manages to come through it all relatively unscathed: he does indeed appear to be ‘Lucky Jim’.
Where did I get hold of the book?
This was another one from – perhaps appropriately – the university library.
- Find the book in a library near you (worldwide).
- Support local independent bookshops by buying the book from Hive (UK).
What did I learn from it?
Normally I don’t ‘read around’ the books I pick for the Book Diaries, as I want to experience them purely as stories rather than texts to be studied. However, for some reason I went peeking into the background of Lucky Jim, and discovered that the character of Jim was to some extent inspired by Philip Larkin, the poet, who was a friend of Kingsley Amis and helped him a great deal with the writing of this novel.
As an ex-librarian I’ve always had a soft spot for Larkin, who was a librarian too. Although he is most well known in connection with the University of Hull, I was surprised to discover that, earlier in his career, he was also a librarian at University College Leicester (now the University of Leicester). This was particularly interesting for me, as my grandfather was Director of Education in Leicester around the time Larkin was working there. It’s strange to think that their paths could have crossed, although I don’t recollect my grandfather having many tales to tell of Leicester celebrities. Maybe he was just discreet.
How did it make me see the world differently?
It feels rather peculiar trying to extrapolate serious lessons from a comic novel in the week we’ve just had here in the UK. Two days ago the MP Jo Cox was murdered, and the shockwaves are still reverberating. To draw any connections between this tragedy and the lightheartedness of Lucky Jim risks seeming flippant, but, oddly, I think the event and the novel are sending me the same message.
In essence, that is: we cannot know what is round the corner, whether good or bad. Much as we can try to plan and work hard and do our best to make things happen, sometimes the thing that will determine the course of our life (or our death) comes out of nowhere and takes us by surprise. In particular, we cannot always predict what other people will do and how it will affect us.
So what to do? It’s not a reason to give up and do nothing except wait for our fate; we still have to do what we can to move life forward in the way we want it to go. But perhaps it’s a reminder not to stress too much over any perceived limitations of our personal contribution; to simply do what we are individually capable of, accept that other factors will come into play over which we have no control – and deal with them as and when they arise. Sometimes we will win and sometimes we will lose, but as long as we have run a good race, our time has not been wasted.
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
Again, what I was planning to write here has changed somewhat with the events of the last couple of days. I was all set to take the slightly radical step of having a break from setting targets; inspired by Jim’s insouciance, I had decided to stop trying so hard and let myself have a fortnight off from trying to change my life.
However, I’m now thinking I should actually redouble my efforts to get my ideas out there into the world, as we really never know what is in store for us. Indeed, only this morning, on my usual country walk, I came across a massive tree that had fallen down and was blocking the path. I’ve had small branches narrowly miss my head a couple of times before, but this was a sharp reminder of how quickly and violently accidents can happen. I’m not sure I want to kick back and let my ideas fester unarticulated, in case something happens that prevents their ever being shared with the world.
I’ve therefore opted for a compromise. At weekends, I’m going to work really hard on Saturdays to get as much done as I can on any outstanding creative endeavours; and on Sundays I will let myself take the entire day off – if I want to. I do need to give myself more time to chill out, but I need to balance this with the renewed desire to get things done. Maybe this new routine will help me find that balance…
A musical interlude
I wanted to find a track that was lighthearted, but with an edge, to match the spirit of Lucky Jim, and the band that came instantly to mind was the Barenaked Ladies. They are perhaps most well known these days as the band who wrote the theme song to the TV show The Big Bang Theory.
Although the song Enid at first seemed the most appropriate choice (it’s about a relationship that never really worked, much like Jim and Margaret in the novel), I couldn’t resist going for my favourite, If I Had $1000000. It’s not entirely irrelevant, as Jim does spend a fair amount of time wishing he had the kind of moneyed background that would have enabled him to live the life in London he so desires.
If you’ve not come across it before, I hope you like it as much as I do.