“Oh Dixon, can I have a word with you?”
To its recipient, this was the most dreadful of all summonses. (80)
– Kinsley Amis, Lucky Jim
I have to admit to a similar urge to run in the other direction whenever I hear the above question as well; or at least a mumble under my breath- ‘oh God no. No in italics.’ In a dedicated attempt to lighten up my state of mind through reading I began Lucky Jim. A little humor, a little fun…why not? I then proceeded to have one of the most unhumorous, unfun days of my life- typically ironic. Needless to say, I had trouble finishing it. But that is not because the book is not highly amusing- it is. It is simply that highly amusing barely brought me ground level for a few days there. But, life is full of twists and turns, through a feat of heroic kindness I am on a better way now, so was able to finally resume the story of Mr. Dixon’s twists and turns.
It was rather annoying to hear how kind she’d been; it entailed putting tiresome qualifications on his dislike for her. (14)
James Dixon is a man who is in a relationship he does not want, in a job he does not really do, in an academic field he does not like. Rather than alter any of the conditions of his life he gets into one scrap after another all in hapless attempts to avoid his own complicity. He is also broke. That never helps.
‘I don’t suppose you want me to say this, but you must realize it yourself, I should think. I don’t see how either of you can be very happy with the other one.’ (210)
Of course, that’s very often the way of the world, the unhappiness is there to see, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to go along with it. Fighting the grain is exhausting. And most everyone is against you.
Dixon ran out into the street. He felt as if he’d been hurrying all his life. (253)
Why hasn’t Wes Anderson made a film based on this book? Dixon is just annoying enough to be very endearing, and there is a kookiness to the story that is crying out for Anderson. When Dixon finally mentally releases his heart, his drive to see the woman he loves that very day is very sweet. I’m a sucker for a lovable misanthrope. Maybe because I’m half that.
what next? what next? What actually would be next: a masked hold-up, a smash, floods, a burst tyre, an electric storm with falling trees and meteorites, a diversion, a low-level attack by communist aircraft, sheep, the driver stung by a hornet? He’d choose the last of these, if consulted. (258)
Kinsley Amis was good friends with Philip Larkin and this book is acknowledged to be based on Larkin (as well as dedicated to him). I’m not an expert on Larkin, but, little that I know, I have a feeling that Amis gifted Jim with a lucky sort of charm that few people, particularly angry ones, possess. Dixon’s charm is of course his sense of humor, whether it’s burning a hole through his host’s sheets, avoiding tiresome students and colleagues, or inventing and naming faces to express his feelings and reactions moment to moment, he is quite funny. The entire story is amusing, acerbic, and astute, none of which can conquer love because in the end, well, love is sweet.
Dixon laughed too. He thought what a pity it was that all his faces were designed to express rage or loathing. Now that something had happened which really deserved a face, he’d none to celebrate with. As a kind of token, he made his Sex Life in Ancient Rome face. (264)
* title from page 2: Welch was talking yet again about his concert. How had he become Professor of History, even at a place like this? By published work? No. By extra good teaching? No in italics. Then how? As usual, Dixon shelved the question.