Jim must struggle to keep his job and impress his advisor Professor Welch, all the while navigating his own personal problems. These include: an on-again, off-again relationship with his suicidal colleague Margaret, a series of dull arty events Welch forces upon him, his upcoming keynote lecture on "Merrie Old England", and a romantic rivalry with Welch's pretentious artist son Bertrand. Not to mention the fact that Jim utterly loathes his subject of study, Medieval History.
The book has been a subject of several film and TV adaptations, most recently in 2003. Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list.
Lucky Jim contains examples of the following tropes:
- Absent-Minded Professor: Professor Welch. Jim describes him as a talented evader, and he manages to be late to everything.
- Artsy Beret: Pretentious, self-absorbed artist Bertrand wears a blue beret when out and about.
- Beauty = Goodness: Of a sort. Jim speculates that Christine's well-adjusted personality stems from her being beautiful, while Margaret's insecurity, manipulativeness, and tendency for drama is a result of her unattractiveness.
- The Bore: The book is filled with these, but Professor Welch takes the cake, as he's prone to long, rambling digressions about subjects of little interest to Jim, mostly on the subject of obscure Medieval art forms. Bertrand also certainly qualifies. There's also Mitchie, a student who takes after Welch. He seems genuinely interested in Medieval History and will drone on about it at length to Jim.
- Bungled Suicide: Before the story begins, Margaret tries unsuccessfully to kill herself with sleeping pills.
- The Dung Ages: How Jim sees the Middle Ages. Jim would have liked to end his lecture with "Thank God for the 20th century."
- Faking Another Person's Illness: Jim gets Bill Atkinson to call at the Welches' to tell him that his parents are in the hospital. This is nonsense, but gives Jim an excuse to leave early.
- Farce: The book has a fast-paced, comedic plot that feeds upon coincidences and the flaws of its characters.
- "Fawlty Towers" Plot: Jim loves these.
- After accidentally burning Mrs. Welch's sheets, he goes to elaborate lengths to cover it up. This leads him to resort to elaborate prank calls and impersonations when he needs to talk to someone in the Welch household later, as he's afraid of speaking with Mrs. Welch.
- Jim steals a taxi from a couple at the Formal, and then has to go through a number of steps to get away with it, including sending the taxi on an elaborate dance to avoid the couple's notice, hiding in the bushes, and bribing the driver.
- Hysterical Woman: Margaret is very emotional and emotionally fragile, provoking feelings of obligation in Jim, who feels like he has to take care of her. At one point she actually goes into a fit of hysteria, and has to be slapped and given whiskey to snap out of it.
- Last Minute Hookup: Jim and Christine breaking it off with their romantic rivals and getting together is the last thing to happen in the book.
- Love Dodecahedron: Jim is sort of seeing Margaret, who was seeing Catchpole at the same time as Jim until he broke it off. Jim prefers Christine, who is dating Bertrand, who is also sleeping with Carol Goldsmith, who is married to Cecil Goldsmith.
- Oop North: Jim hails from Northern England, and sometimes affects a Northern accent when he's trying to make people like him, playing on the stereotype that the accent is trustworthy.
- Playing Sick:
- Bill Atkinson fakes a faint at a dramatic moment during Jim's "Merrie Old England" lecture.
- Catchpole argues that Margaret's suicide attempt and general demeanor of mental illness are not genuine and are just a ploy for attention. After hearing this Jim decides not to worry about her anymore.
- Prank Call: Jim pretends to be a journalist from London over the phone in order to extract information from Bertrand. He frequently pretends to be someone else when calling the Welches'. By the end of the book, Jim notes that he "could probably write a book on non-business uses of phones".
- Protagonist Title: "Lucky" Jim Dixon is the book's protagonist.
- Race for Your Love: Near the end, Jim finds out that Christine is leaving town to catch the 1:50 train to London, about an hour beforehand. He rushes to catch a bus to the station, which is supposed to arrive at 1:43, but the bus is running late. After an agonizing ride, he arrives right at 1:50 only to find out that the train actually left at 1:40, and the next one comes at 8. He is crestfallen, only to encounter Christine, who also thought the train arrived at 1:50 and has missed it. They reunite and finally get together.
- Romantic False Lead: Bertrand, who's a pretentious Jerkass, is also dating Christine, one of Jim's Love Interests.
- Shaped Like Itself: Jim has an adage that "Nice things are nicer than nasty things."
- Small Name, Big Ego: Bertrand isn't especially successful as an artist, and Gore-Urquart, a prominent patron of the arts, claims that Bertrand's work sucks, but Bertrand certainly acts like a big shot.
- Will They or Won't They?: Jim and Christine both repeatedly change their mind about whether they want a relationship with each other, and for the first half of the book can't seem to get it straight about whether they like each other or not.
- Ye Goode Olde Days: This is how Welch, who loves Medieval arts and culture, sees the Middle Ages. Welch has Jim give a talk on "Merrie Old England", making his view on the subject clear. To butter him up, Jim plans to end his lecture with an extended digression on how much better those times were than now, and how the Medieval man would be shocked by modern society.