I've never read Kingsley Amis before! Somebody (Lory?) reviewed Lucky Jim several months ago, and I've meant to read it ever since. I found an old copy with an Edward Gorey cover at work and have been saving it for a treat!
From what I can tell, Lucky Jim set a fashion for 'campus' novels--probably usually "novels about angry young men at newly-founded universities," as Diana Wynne Jones once commented. Lucky Jim is indeed set in a "red-brick university" in the Midlands, which would make it newly-founded by British standards, because those mostly date from around 1900 or so.
James Dixon is a lecturer in medieval English history--it's his first year and he's on probation for the job. While he desperately needs to hang on to his employment, he hates everything about it. He hates medieval history, and his head of department, and all the other academics, and his sort-of girlfriend Margaret, and especially his head's son, the bearded and artistic Bertrand. Of course he keeps these feelings to himself and only lets them go in his head or in private, with the result that he sounds very much like an English George Costanza for most of the novel.
Amis is very funny. I laughed out loud a lot and insisted on reading bits out to my husband, like:
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. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.
Those who professed themselves unable to believe in the reality of human progress ought to cheer themselves up . . . by a short study of the Middle Ages. The hydrogen bomb, the South African Government, Chiang Kai-shek, Senator McCarthy himself, would then seem a light price to pay for no longer being in the Middle Ages. Had people ever been as nasty, as self-indulgent, as dull, as miserable, as cocksure, as bad at art, as dismally ludicrous, or as wrong as they'd been in . . . the Middle Ages?James meets Christine, the horrible Bertrand's girlfriend, and realizes that he likes her much better than anyone else he knows. But perhaps by now he is trapped in this self-induced academic hell, and he'll go on to marry the manipulative Margaret and continue sucking up to Professor Welch and giving prissy talks about Merrie England for the rest of his life. Or maybe...he'll get lucky.
The writing is wonderful and I loved reading Amis' sour observations about what life in academia can become. This was a great read.
It also counts for the West Midlands in the Reading England challenge!