Within the first few minutes of reading Lucky Jim, the first book written by Kingsley Amis, I was struck suddenly by a wave of vague recognition. At one point, Amis is describing the University where the main character gives his lectures on medieval history:
“An ill-kept lawn ran down the front of them to a row of amputated railings, beyond which was College Road and the town cemetery, a conjunction responsible for some popular local jokes.”
Flicking back to the front of the novel, I noticed it was dedicated to Philip Larkin, the great poet and novelist who served as an assistant librarian at the University of Leicester. Apparently, it was his time visiting Larkin at Leicester that gave Amis many of his ideas for the background of Lucky Jim. The passage continues humorously:
“Lecturers were fond of lauding to their students the comparative receptivity to facts of ‘the Honours class over the road’, while the parallel between the occupations of graveyard attendant and custodian of learning was one which often suggested itself to others beside the students.”
Lucky Jim is a brilliant novel which uses wit and humour to give an insight into the daily lives of University lecturers, who the novel shows to be just as disorganised and alcohol-infused as their students.
Before giving an ill-prepared lecture to the other professors, Jim is persuaded to drink a few glasses of whisky to steady his nerves. Without wishing to spoil the story’s climax, it’s safe to assume that the lecture doesn’t exactly go as he’d planned.
The book is also worth reading solely for the fact that it features the best description of a hangover that I’ve read so far, which will undoubtedly resonate with students who have woken up to the dull realisation that they’ve had several drinks too many. I’m sure we could all do well to think of poor Jim Dixon the next time we reach for the bottle. I’ll include it here by way of conclusion to this review.
“Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth has been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by a secret police. He felt bad.”