Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
Lucky Jim is about a lazy young lecturer at a British university. He’s a bit of a prankster and a drunk, and he gets himself into silly problems that work out in the end. The book is funny, but the humor seemed somewhat dated and foreign to me, though I usually like British humor. It seemed like it might be better in a movie than a book in some places. Some of the best parts are the digs at professors and academic life and its foibles and ridiculousness.
Much of the plot of the book is concerned with Jim’s relationships with two women he’s interested in dating, Margaret, a fellow academic, and Christine, his boss’s son’s girlfriend. I was kind of uncomfortable about the way Jim thinks about Margaret and Christine, comparing them and discussing at length how much more attractive Christine is, pondering their various parts and exactly what makes each of them attractive or not. I know this triangle is created mostly for tension and suspense–which girl will he pick?–but the fact that Christine’s looks weigh so heavily in her ‘pro’ column is problematic. In the many books about love triangles that feature two men and a woman, it is generally much less common for the male characters’ differing attractiveness to be a major factor in the woman’s decision; usually they’re both good-looking in different ways, or if one is less attractive it might be because he’s significantly older (and/or sometimes richer), or has a heart of gold while the hottie is a jerk.
At the end we find out that Margaret faked the suicide attempt she made before the action of the book begins, which had been a catalyst for her relationship with Jim. This information makes Jim feel he has permission to cut things off with her finally. What bothered me about this whole thing is that even if Margaret didn’t intend to kill herself, she did still take enough pills to need to be hospitalized. It’s still self-harm, it’s still serious, and she still needs help. If she did it because of how Jim and another guy, Catchpole, were treating her, if it was a real “cry for help,” or she was trying to “send a message,” then the issue is why she felt she had to get their attention this way. Why didn’t she think she could just talk to them about the problems in her relationships with them? I think if she felt she couldn’t talk to either of her boyfriends, it’s the boyfriends’ fault for being dismissive of her generally. Calling a woman needy, clingy, and crazy is at least potentially misogynist. These guys should feel some responsibility for the way they treated Margaret, rather than feeling utterly absolved when they deduce what she did. Jim’s reaction to this news is complex; it seems he may feel some of this responsibility, but not close enough to the surface that he names why. Either way, it gives him an excuse to do what he’s been hoping to do throughout the entire book, ditch the unattractive girl and go after the looker. Though Margaret is undoubtedly better off without these guys, I still feel bad for her.
I only wish irresponsibility were rewarded in the real world the way Jim’s is in this book. He gets everything he could have wanted at the end, but it’s kind of hard to feel he did much to earn it, since he spent most of the book drunk, procrastinating, pranking obnoxious rivals, or chasing Christine and Margaret. The book is considered a classic. I enjoyed it, but if I were choosing which books were classics, I wouldn’t have chosen this one.