Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “British Humor”

ElCicco #CBR4 review #42: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis is a good choice for fans of Brit lit in the vein of P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. It’s witty with biting humor although it does lack some of the whimsey found in Wodehouse and Three Men. Amis’ writing has more of an edge and flirts with misanthropy, but manages not to fall head over heels into it. Protagonist Jim Dixon is a history lecturer at a provincial college. His advisor Welch is a pretentious bore, Welch’s wife is a shrew and his son Bertrand an arrogant snob with a hot girlfriend. Margaret is a single, not beautiful but  not ugly colleague and friend (perhaps more?) who seems emotionally unstable. Jim is closing the school term, trying to get published and to keep in Welch’s good graces so as to keep his position, but Jim hates them all. He is not quite a misanthrope, having kind impulses toward Margaret and good relations with a few chums. But there are fools whom he will not suffer — Welch, Bertrand, and his fellow boarder Johns, with whom he has an antagonistic combative relationship, reminiscent of “Spy vs. Spy”.

Jim seems unlucky throughout the book. At a weekend at Welch’s, he drinks too much, nearly sets fire to his room, antagonizes the host’s son and girlfriend, and offends Margaret. The editor who showed an interest in his research is getting ready to leave for a post in South America. And Jim doesn’t especially enjoy his chosen career or current post. The climax is the lecture he is to give on “Merrie England,” a chance to impress his supervisor and keep his job, but his drinking problem and desire to win the personal battle against Bertrand and Welch results in something quite different.

I think this book would be especially enjoyable to anyone who has spent time in graduate school, particularly studying history (as I did). Some of my favorite lines in the book relate to the graduate student grind. Jim became a Medievalist without really intending to and he hates his course of study. Reflecting on the title of his research (“The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450-1485”), Jim reflects, “It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems.” When a friend asks Jim if the work is any good, Jim asks what he means by “good.” The friend answers, “Well, is it any more than accurate and the sort of thing that gets turned out? Anything beyond the sort of thing that’ll help you to keep your job?” Jim replies, “Good God, no.”

Lucky Jim is loosely based on the life of Amis’ real life friend and poet Philip Larkin. I didn’t find Amis’ writing as funny/farcical as Wodehouse’s, but Jim, despite his sometimes obnoxious and childish behavior, is likable. The reader can see his inner decency when he tries to protect the feelings of female characters. His combat with Johns and Bertrand is often hilarious. Despite (or perhaps because of) circumstances, Jim is quite lucky in the end. A fun weekend read for autumn.

Samantha’s #CBR4 review #4: My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

Ooh, short stories. I always mean to get into them, and then I never do. I like going for the gusto of a full novel. Still, anytime I read stories, I always enjoy them, and the adventures of Jeeves and Wooster were no exception. I feel like I’ve had P.G. Wodehouse recommended to me forever, and I just kept putting him off.  After the heaviness of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, though, I needed something light, fluffy, and easily digested, and Mr. Wodehouse fit the bill perfectly.

Bertie Wooster is a young British aristocrat. He’s thoroughly useless, a dandy who is merely hanging around New York wasting time until he decides it’s safe to go back to England (he’s waiting for a formidable aunt to be less angry with him). He seems to spend his time shopping for clothes and helping his friends out of scrapes. Rather, he volunteers the services of his man, Jeeves, to assist said friends with said scrapes. Jeeves, you see, besides being a top-notch valet (the most proper of men, knowledgeable of anything and everything having to do with current fashion and etiquette), is also terrifically clever, and can eventually think his way out of any situation.

That’s essentially the gist of the stories in My Man Jeeves. Bertie’s friends have some sort of conundrum, quite often involving their allowances/inheritances from eccentric older relatives, and Bertie asks Jeeves to step in and solve the problem. He does so, but not before a variety of comedic mishaps ensue. The stories are narrated by Bertie himself, told breezily and with more than a dash of posh, early 20th century slang. They’re pretty much hilarious. I tend to cringe at stories where people compound stupid mistake on top of stupid mistake, but in this case, the whole issue is so silly and Jeeves’ plans are so absurd that you can’t take them at all seriously. It’s like a game, where Jeeves makes a move and then must counter that move when things inevitably go wrong. Just when you think it’s all going to come crashing down, the whole affair is miraculously solved, and you realize at the end that that was Jeeves’ plan all along. The interplay between careless Bertie and fastidious Jeeves is truly a delight; much of any story includes at least one instance of Bertie making some disastrous (by Jeeves’ standards) fashion decision and attempting to assert himself by sticking with said decision, only to capitulate in order to reward Jeeves once he’s saved the day.

My Man Jeeves contains four Jeeves and Wooster stories and four stories involving a character named Reggie Pepper, who was apparently a prototype of Bertie Wooster. The Reggie Pepper stories are also quite funny, but you can tell that the character and his narrative voice are not fully realized or polished, and most importantly, there’s no Jeeves.  Still, I’d highly recommend this (and probably any of the other Jeeves stories) if you’re looking for something truly fun and easy to read. Instead of brain candy, Jeeves and Wooster are like brain creme brulee, or some other fancy-schmancy dessert. They’re light, delicious,  and not so sugary that you hate yourself after you’ve finished them. Best of all, I think, you feel a little bit more worldly and elegant just slipping into their world.

ElCicco#CBR4Review#08: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

I had never heard of this novel before reading a review of it recently on NPR’s “You Must Read This” blog. Apparently, it’s known ’round the world and was enormously popular when published in 1889. The plot is simple: three friends decide to take a two-week vacation together, boating on the Thames. What we learn is that the problems and annoyances that the travelers encounter are the same today as they were 100+ years ago, and can be the source of great amusement: deciding what to pack and then trying to pack it all, road rage and dealing with idiot drivers, arguments over who is doing the most work, managing the cooking and washing, and dealing with bad weather and the foul moods that ensue. Jerome K. Jerome was a humorist, and if you like P.G. Wodehouse or National Lampoon-style vacation movies, Three Men in a Boat is for you.

This is a book that is irresistibly quotable. Among my favorites:

  • On finding “no-trespassing” signs along the river, right where someone wants to stop and enjoy a picnic lunch: “The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up….”
  • On river rage: “When another boat gets in my way, I feel I want to take an oar and kill all the people in it.”
  • When the three men ram into a fishing boat full of old men: “…they cursed us — not with a common cursory curse, but with long, carefully-thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the whole of our career, and went away into the distant future, and included all our relatives, and covered everything with us — good, substantial curses.”
  • On cleaning clothes while camping: “She said it had not been like washing, it had been more in the nature of excavating.”
  • And the description of a quaint, picturesque cottage: “once-upon-a-timeyfied.”

While there is much in this story to make one smile and chuckle, the stories of traveling by train with cheese and of trying to open a tin of pineapple without benefit of a can opener are laugh-out-loud funny.

Three Men in a Boat is a great piece of brain candy. If you need a break and a laugh, this is an excellent choice.

Post Navigation