After painfully slogging through Lucky Jim (1954) by Kingsley Amis and Money (1984) by Martin Amis, I reached three conclusions: (1) there is either something wrong with British sense of humor or with mine; (2) I’m not attracted to novels featuring loutish protagonists; and (3) Lucky Jim is less boring than Money because it is shorter and less dense.
I’ll be brief because no second chances for either Amis, at least not in my book. Lucky Jim is an untenured university lecturer, a job for which he is singularly unsuited. Not only does he have to suck up to a lot of self-absorbed and pretentious people but he also has to write and speak about such inconsequential topics as shipbuilding in the middle ages. He takes pokes at some of the most pretentious of his colleagues and acquaintances, but defacing the cover of a rival’s magazine and sneaking out to a pub during a weekend get-together of colleagues, getting soused, and then snoozing with a cigarette and burning his host’s blanket and sheets did not transport me into hysterics. Neither did Jim’s attempting to cover-up for said cigarette transgression by remaking the bed so that the damaged bedclothes were tucked-in at the bottom, his stealing a cab from a professor, his posing as a journalist, or his arranging his face in mocking gesticulation. Can we get more juvenile than risque jokes about a colleague’s oboe? (Yes we can, see below). Oddly enough, I was able to imagine the action as a wonderful movie starring Cary Grant. The difference is that Cary exuded charm, which redeems everything. Jim, however, is charmless, bitter, and whiny, as flat as the pages on which he appears.
As for Money, I was not intrigued by protagonist John Self, womanizer, lush, gay-baiter, woman- batterer, fast-food-binging, and money and pornography obsessed. John is a rich advertisement director, who is asked to direct a film. Amis’ depictions of Hollywood egos are great. There’s some clever writing, but an overdose of strip joints, hookers, liquor bottles, drugs, porn magazines, and drunken brawls in London and seedy 1980’s New York City. The decadent eighties were done much better and more interestingly by Edward St. Aubyn in his Patrick Melrose novels. I can vouch that nineteen-eighties New York City was a cesspool. I regularly passed the tawdry Times Square that Amis describes–even occasionally visiting the video arcades. John Self went slumming in a Harlem, then considered dangerous. I ventured there everyday, when I attended Columbia Law School. John is unsuccessfully mugged in the Village. I had my wallet stolen just north of Times Square. As for the juvenile, calling a movie star Spunk Davis and a second one Lorne Guyland (for Long Island), really? I did get to learn a new word. Martin Amis appears as a character in Money. He and John play chess. John is zugzwanged, meaning he’s forced to move but moving will only weaken his position. I zugzwanged myself into reading Lucky Jim and Money. To honor the drunken Amis protagonists, let’s drink to stopping reading bad books in the middle. Life’s too short.