KRG Readers were lucky in the choice of the novel for the December reading by Thommo and Priya. Can a fifties novel still entertain and amuse us? To hear the chuckling and laughter at the Yacht Club Library during the reading of a dozen passages was to have the question answered resoundingly with a 'yes.'
The story goes that Amis was visiting his friend, the poet Philip Larkin, at Leicester University, when he passed by the common room of the faculty and imagined a story lurked there. When he wrote Lucky Jim it became a hilarious send-up about university life and the intrigues among the faculty. By exploiting the enormous material for comedy that lay hidden amidst the chicanery and incompetence within the university, Amis gave the world a novel whose mirth will last a long time.
(note on the table the Banana Raisin Cake which KumKum made)
Comparisons with P.G. Wodehouse arose naturally. The novel has many similarities: improbable situations, the build-up to a climactic accident in a chapter, polysyllabic humour, and people who are ridiculous foils for the comic anti-hero. Dixon marches doggedly through a sludge of difficulties that would damage irreparably the self-esteem of an Oxford don; and here he is, a mere lecturer at a provincial university.
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The next session is Poetry, on Jan 13, 2012. The next novel for reading is Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne on Feb 10, 2012. The next novel selection is up to Bobby and Verghese – by Dec 15 please.
Thommo read the comic passage where the Head of the Dept. of History, Welch, is driving the junior lecturer, Dixon, to his home. Welch's driving down the narrow lanes and barely colliding with other vehicles provides the merriment. The recitation of the title of his precious paper is another spoof on academia's absorption in trifles: 'In considering this strangely neglected topic,' it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? … 'oh yes; The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485.
Talitha's piece about Dixon lighting a fire in the bedroom with his cigarette was leavened with hilarity, and many a snuffle of laughter rang out as she read, just as with Thommo's piece. There is a steady stream of bits of conversation in which little bomblets of the ridiculous lying buried just below the surface go off; but you must listen to someone reading to appreciate it. Priya confirmed that it was not until she read it aloud she got the full dose of Amis. The jams Dixon gets into are redolent of Bertie Wooster (said Thommo), but the style is different according to Talitha.
Priya read the farcical piece where Dixon masquerades as a reporter for the Evening Post gathering information about Bertrand for an article. Bertrand falls for it and provides an exaggerated account about what he paints and so on (“the undraped female figure”). Gopa pointed out that at the beginning in his father’s house, Bertrand gave a different account of his painting:
“I am a painter. Not, alas, a painter of houses, or I should have been able to make my pile and retire by now. No no; I paint pictures. Not, alas again, pictures of trade unionists or town halls or naked women, or I should now be squatting on an even larger pile.”
Joe noted the passage was in character for Priya, who works for a newspaper herself. Here she is interviewing Bertrand over the phone:
"Er….. we'd like to do a little paragraph about you for our, for our Saturday page,"
The passage Zakia read makes one aware of the class distinctions in those times of the fifties in Britain. What made you look and act in a particular way depended on the class of society you came from. Dixon ruminates here on the shabbiness of women in his class, whereas those who draped the arms of Bertrand-like men were far more attractive in appearance:
One of the impossible situations into which Dixon is projected is at the Welch's party. After making the claim that he could read music 'after a fashion', he is given a solo part that he can't muddle through by just opening and closing his mouth voicelessly in unison with the rest of the chorus:
How wonderful to write a first novel that amazed an audience of readers well-used to humour of the PG Wodehouse variety. It has many similarities: improbable situations, the build-up to a climactic accident in a chapter, polysyllabic humour, and people who are ridiculous foils for the comic anti-hero. Dixon marches doggedly through a sludge of difficulties that would damage irreparably the self-esteem of an Oxford don; and here he is a mere lecturer at a provincial university. The forced grovelling before the oafish Head of the Department of History, Welch, is a trauma in which we readers participate in. With every thrust or jape that Dixon uses to thwart the ill-fated engagements forced on him by Welch, the reader rises in anxious expectancy: will Dixon get his own back on Welch, or even better, on Bertrand, his son, the phony artist?
“effeminate writing Michel, a character always waiting in the wings of Dixon's life but apparently destined never to enter its stage. This Michel, as indefatigably Gallic as his mother, had been cooking."
The goings on before Dixon sets fire to the bedclothes provide a vein of comedy that Amis mines richly. The effects of drunkenness on the person is described by one who has been there; the room moves with his every movement, contrariwise.
- the campaign against efficiency
- the Gussie Fink Nottle debate
“Taking its germ from Amis's observation of the common room at the University of Leicester, where his friend Larkin held a post ...”
(a) As Dixon watched, a bus passed slowly up the hill in the mild May sunshine, bound for the small town where the Welches lived. Dixon betted himself it would be there before them. A roaring voice began to sing behind one of the windows above his head; it sounded like, and presumably might even be, Barclay, the Professor of Music.
(a) 'Everybody was wondering where you'd got to,' she said.
Things at once happened very quickly. While, as he had reason to know, outgoing calls from the Welches' were liable to take some time, incoming ones were horrifyingly swift. In less than a quarter of a minute Mrs Welch had said to him: 'Celia Welch speaking.'
In a few more seconds Dixon had noticed all he needed to notice about this girl: the combination of fair hair, straight and cut short, with brown eyes and no lipstick, the strict set of the mouth and the square shoulders, the large breasts and the narrow waist, the premeditated simplicity of the wine-coloured corduroy skirt and the unornamented white linen blouse. The sight of her seemed an irresistible attack on his own habits, standards, and ambitions: something designed to put him in his place for good. The notion that women like this were never on view except as the property of men like Bertrand was so familiar to him that it had long since ceased to appear an injustice. The huge class that contained Margaret was destined to provide his own womenfolk: those in whom the intention of being attractive could sometimes be made to get itself confused with performance; those with whom a too-tight skirt, a wrong-coloured, or no, lipstick, even an ill-executed smile could instantly discredit that illusion beyond apparent hope of renewal. But renewal always came: a new sweater would somehow scale down the large feet, generosity revivify the brittle hair, a couple of pints site positive charm in talk of the London stage or French food.
A bursting snuffle of laughter came from Dixon's left rear. He glanced round to see Johns's pallor rent by a grin. The large short-lashed eyes were fixed on him. 'What's the joke?' he asked. If Johns were laughing at Welch, Dixon was prepared to come in on Welch's side.
Reading: Bertrand and Dixon have it out
(a) He began getting into bed. His four surviving cigarettes – had he really smoked twelve that evening? – lay in their packet on a polished table at the bed-head, accompanied by matches, the bakelite mug of water, and an ashtray from the mantelpiece. A temporary inability to raise his second foot on to the bed let him know what had been the secondary effect of drinking all that water: it had made him drunk. This became a primary effect when he lay in bed. On the fluttering mantelpiece was a small china effigy, the representation, in a squatting position, of a well-known Oriental religious figure. Had Welch put it there as a silent sermon to him on the merits of the contemplative life? If so, the message had come too late. He reached up and turned off the light by the hanging switch above his head. The room began to rise upwards from the right-hand bottom corner of the bed, and yet seemed to keep in the same position. He threw back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed, his legs hanging. The room composed itself to rest. After a few moments he swung his legs back and lay down. The room lifted. He put his feet to the floor. The room stayed still. He put his legs on the bed but didn't lie down. The room moved. He sat on the edge of the bed. Nothing. He put one leg up on the bed. Something. In fact a great deal. He was evidently in a highly critical condition. Swearing hoarsely, he heaped up the pillows, half-lay, half-sat against them, and dangled his legs half-over the edge of the bed. In this position he was able to lower himself gingerly into sleep.