Perfect Book: Lucky Jim


Here’s another topic I’ll be revisiting periodically: books that are damn near perfect, in my opinion. First on my list is Lucky Jim.

Lucky Jim recounts the tale of Jim Dixon, a hapless, eternally frustrated medieval history lecturer at an English university. It’s widely considered to be one of the funniest books of all time, but it’s not merely funny; Lucky Jim is a love story as much as a comedy, and while it’s kind of an immature one, since Dixon’s kind of an immature guy, you still root for him to win the girl, as well as the life he yearns to live.

The brilliance of Lucky Jim is that the more Jim Dixon digs himself into one hole after another, the more you love him. He doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s terrified of being found out; he despises pretension and yet he’s immersed in it; he’s filled with rage and the best way he can express it is by conjuring up grotesque facial expressions when no one is looking. He’s ridiculous, cowardly, passive-aggressive, dopey, maddening, and utterly human. What a great character.

Here, for your enjoyment, is a passage describing Jim Dixon waking up with a hangover.

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 had 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 secret police. He felt bad.

If you haven’t read Lucky Jim, you know what you have to do.

There’s a real shortage of (actually funny) comic novels out there, if you ask me. What’s your favorite?

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