In his send-up of the academic world, the author poked fun at the British way of life, and gave post-war fiction a new and enduring figure to laugh at.
In Lucky Jim, Amis introduces us to Jim Dixon, a junior lecturer at a British college who spends his days fending off the legions of malevolent twits that populate the school. His job is in constant danger, often for good reason. Lucky Jim hits the heights whenever Dixon tries to keep a preposterous situation from spinning out of control, which is every three pages or so. The final example of this--a lecture spewed by a hideously pickled Dixon--is a chapter's worth of comic nirvana. The book is not politically correct (Amis wasn't either), but take it for what it is, and you won't be disappointed.
But that's not to say the book lacks any merit. There are incidents as exciting and/or comic as in any other novel ruled by middle-class convention (one reviewer above noted the hangover scene in chapter 6; see also Jim's coup at the ball and his drunken debacle of a speech). In terms of writing, you will not find prose more clear or brisk than Mr. Amis's -- and Jim's overwhelming feelings of ill-will are somewhat excused by the sheer originality, fluidity, and wit of his turns of phrase. The simple punchline metaphors always stand out ("like Genghis Khan meditating a purge of his captains"; "Welch's nose itself, a large, open-pored tetrahedron"), but the best moments show off the author's flexibility with language, like the running gag of Jim's "Welch tune": "This tune featured in the rondo of some boring piano concerto Welch had once insisted on playing [Jim] on his complicated exponential-horned gramophone ...and Dixon had fitted words to it ... 'You ignorant clod, you stupid old sod, you havering get...' Here intervened a string of unmentionables, corresponding with an oom-pah sort of effect in the orchestra. 'You wordy old turdy old scum, you griping old piping old bum...'" and so on.
In short -- if any character were half as rich and friendly as Amis's pen, this book would be engaging. As it is, one closes it wondering why they bothered to spend 200 pp. with such middling, dull people.
Nonetheless, I think son Martin Amis did a funnier job with a similarly self-absorbed, self-centered slob in "Money: A suicide note". While I can see where son Martin found and derived his inspiration, I found less humor and little insight from the father.
Lucky Jim Dixon is often more loathesome than likeable. His own sense of humor -- childish practical jokes of revenge on his enemies -- is more petty and mean than inspired. He doesn't much care for his students (except perhaps the pretty girls), his colleagues, or (for better reasons) his "superiors". Reading "Lucky Jim", I pictured a young Peter O'Toole or perhaps Hugh Grant drinking and stumbling his way through a good job, more concerned about his cigarette and beer budget than anything intellectual, romantic, noble, or heroic.
Other than his contrast to the even more boorish son (Betrand) of Dixon's superior, it is still hard to understand the basis for the lucky outcome that concludes the book. Lucky for Jim, not just his students that, Dixon found another career.