I hate to use the word “hapless” two days in a row, but here goes. Hapless Jim Dixon is an unhappily employed lecturer in history at a “new university” in England. (I believe even that phrase is supposed to be fraught with meaning, but I am not British, so I don’t know what it might be.) Uncertain of whether he’ll be keeping his job in the coming year, he is forced to listen with an attentive air to the endless prosings of his boss Professor Welch and to take on all the tedious chores he is assigned. He vents his frustration through silly pranks and grotesque grimaces when he thinks no one is looking.
He has also gotten himself entangled with Margaret, a manipulative coworker whom he pities because she recently attempted suicide when her fiancé left her.
During a stultifying weekend of amateur theatrics and madrigal singing at the Welch’s, Jim meets the beautiful Christine, the girlfriend of the horrible Bertrand, Welch’s pretentious and belligerant son. Jim is startled to find that perhaps Christine returns his interest.
Amis’ amusing skewering of academic life comes to a climax at Jim’s well-attended lecture on Merrie England. Amis’ novel is known both for being the first “campus novel,” one that takes the point of view of a lecturer rather than a student, and for its down-to-earth, witty writing style, an approach that was unusual at the time. Although it was published in 1954, it holds up pretty well in modern times.