A Dish reader flags the above video, in which Boris Johnson nominates Kingsley Amis’ famous account from Lucky Jim. Here’s the passage in question:
Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth has been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by a secret police. He felt bad.
Do readers have a better suggestion? For those unfamiliar with Amis’s novel, there might be no better introduction than this essay from Hitch, which particularly emphasizes what makes the book so funny:
I happened to be in Sarajevo when Kingsley Amis died, in 1995. I was to have lunch the following day with a very clever but rather solemn Slovenian dissident. She knew that I had known Amis a little, and she expressed the proper condolences as soon as we met. Feeling this to be not quite sufficient, however, she added that the genre of “academic comedy” had enjoyed quite a vogue among Balkan writers. “In our region zere are many such satires. But none I sink so amusing as ze Lucky Jim.”
This, delivered with perfect gravity in the lugubrious context of the Milosevic war, made me grin with inappropriate delight. How the old buzzard would have gagged, with mingled pride and disdain, at the thought of being so appreciated by a load of Continentals—nay, foreigners. And what the hell can his masterpiece be like when rendered into the Serbo-Croat tongue?
Just try to suggest a more hilarious novel from the past half century. Something by Joseph Heller? Terry Southern? David Lodge or Malcolm Bradbury? Yes, the Americans can be grotesque and noir; and the Englishmen have their mite of irony. (In fact, the academic comedy is now a sub-genre of Anglo-Americanism.) But even so. The late Peter de Vries—much admired by Amis for his Mackerel Plaza—depended too much on the farcical. No, the plain fact is that Amis managed in Lucky Jim (1954) to synthesize the comic achievements of Evelyn Waugh and P. G. Wodehouse. Just as a joke is not really a joke if it has to be clarified, I risk immersion in a bog of embarrassment if I overdo this; but if you can picture Bertie or Jeeves being capable of actual malice, and simultaneously imagine Evelyn Waugh forgetting about original sin, you have the combination of innocence and experience that makes this short romp so imperishable.