One Fat Englishman — Kingsley Amis Strikes Again

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Kingsley Amis wrote bitingly funny academic novels.  Lucky Jim, published in 1954, made me laugh so hard that I wept.  Nine years later, Amis wrote One Fat Englishman in a similar vein.  I really liked Lucky Jim (which was reviewed on this blog this summer).  It was funny, and even though Jim was a hapless fool, he had some redeeming qualities.  His struggle to hang on at a mediocre university while unable to control his impulses was ultimately hilarious.  Whatever Jim was, he wasn’t deliberately mean, and so I more or less rooted for him even as I laughed at his predicaments.  Apparently I am much more likely to like a novel if I find the main character at least vaguely likable.  I completely subscribe to the Jennifer Weiner school on this and refuse to accept that literature is automatically more worthy if the main character is thoroughly reprehensible.

For these reasons, I had a problem with Roger Micheldene, the title character of One Fat Englishman.  He was consistently self-centered, lecherous, gluttonous and out of control, with a mean streak.  If Micheldene had redeeming qualities they were kept under wraps.  There were many funny scenes and predicaments, replete with an unending supply of self-important academics.   Reading this book just wasn’t as much fun as reading Lucky Jim, although if I were less annoyed by the main character, I would have to concede this is also a very funny book that sends up conceited, academic nitwits in stellar fashion.

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Lucky Jim — Hilarious Academic Classic

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I’ve bought and given away more copies of this very funny novel than I can count.  Lucky Jim was Kingsley Amis’s first book, and what a debut!  This post WWII novel concerns the travails of Jim Dixon, a mediocre academic desperately trying to hang on at a mediocre English university.   Why he wants to be there is unclear.  He is reliably his own worst enemy and turns all opportunities into disasters.  He can’t navigate the murky academic waters, and yet he persists in trying.   Along the way, Jim mixes it up with all manner of ridiculous academic caricatures.  If you have spent any time at all on an academic campus, this book rings absolutely true.  Very funny, but very true.

It is summer.  You deserve a fun read.  Try this!