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James Ley

James Ley

James Ley is an essayist and literary critic who lives in Melbourne. A former Editor of Sydney Review of Books, he has been a regular contributor to ABR since 2003.

James Ley reviews ‘Summertime: Scenes from provincial life’ by J.M. Coetzee and ‘The Cambridge Introduction to J.M. Coetzee’ by Dominic Head

September 2009, no. 314 01 September 2009
Over the course of his long and distinguished career, J.M. Coetzee has written fiction in an array of modes and genres. His books include works of historical and epistolary fiction, realism, allegory and metafiction. He has written novels that have developed complex and evocative intertextual relationships with some of his most significant literary influences – Daniel Defoe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, F ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 2: 1923–1925' edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton

May 2010, no. 321 01 May 2010
The first volume of  T.S. Eliot’s letters, published in 1988, covered his early life to the end of literary modernism’s annus mirabilis, 1922. The year was a turning point in the thirty-four-year-old Eliot’s career. In November he published the poem that made him famous, ‘The Waste Land’, in the inaugural edition of Criterion, the journal he was to edit until 1939. That it has take ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Sons of the Rumour' by David Foster

November 2009, no. 316 01 November 2009
At the end of her insightful critical study David Foster: Satirist of Australia (2008), Susan Lever quotes several rather despondent-sounding letters from her subject. In one, he claims to have lost his taste for satire; in another, he declares that he is ‘over’ literature. Yet he also expresses a continuing desire ‘to write books that are strange and beautiful’, and reveals he is at work ... (read more)

James Ley on J.M. Coetzee's 'The Life and Times of Michael K'

August 2023, no. 456 25 July 2023
‘Why should I be expected to rise above my times? Is it my doing that my times have been so shameful? Why should it be left to me, old and sick and full of pain, to lift myself out of this pit of disgrace?’ These are the words of Mrs Curren, the elderly narrator of J.M. Coetzee’s under-appreciated mid-period novel Age of Iron (1990), but it would be easy enough to find similarly anguished ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Everything and Less: The novel in the age of Amazon' by Mark McGurl

April 2022, no. 441 23 March 2022
On 21 July 2021, one of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, staged a press conference in the small town of Van Horn, Texas, the purpose of which was to boast about his recent ten-minute joy ride into space atop a rocket so comically penis-shaped that one could be forgiven for thinking that the whole exercise was intended as an outrageously expensive joke, albeit one that Mel Broo ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'A New Literary History of America' edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors

March 2010, no. 319 01 March 2010
Cynthia Ozick’s most recent collection of criticism, The Din in the Head (2006), contains a brief but engaging essay called ‘Highbrow Blues’. It begins with her musing about a gaffe made by Jonathan Franzen following the publication of The Corrections (2002). Oprah Winfrey had selected Franzen’s novel for her televised book club, which was popular enough to turn any work she chose into a b ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Magician' by Colm Tóibín

September 2021, no. 435 19 August 2021
Colm Tóibín’s eleventh novel, The Magician, is a dramatisation of the life of Thomas Mann. It begins in 1891 with the death of Mann’s father, a successful businessman from the north German city of Lübeck, whose last agonised words to his fifteen-year-old son are, ‘You know nothing.’ It ends in 1950, five years before Mann’s death at the age of eighty, when he returns to Europe after a ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Along Heroic Lines' by Christopher Ricks

August 2021, no. 434 22 July 2021
The first essay in Christopher Ricks’s Along Heroic Lines is the text of his inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, an honorary post he held from 2004 to 2009. He takes as his subject the formal distinction between poetry and prose. If one is going to be a professor of poetry, the least one can do is arrive at a satisfactory definition of one’s object of study. To this end, Ricks ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death' by Harold Bloom

May 2021, no. 431 26 April 2021
Listen to this article read by its author.   Harold Bloom died in 2019 at the age of eighty-nine. Always prolific, he continued working until the very end. Throughout his final book, he digresses at regular intervals to record the date, note his advanced age, and allude to his failing health. At one point, he reveals that he is dictating from a hospital chair. Could a book composed under ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Fifty Key Literary Theorists' by Richard J. Lane

March 2007, no. 289 01 March 2007
The title of Richard J. Lane’s guidebook contains a small allusion to the changes that have occurred in literary studies over the past half-century. There was a time when universities trained critics; these days, everyone is a theorist. The distinction might be regarded as minor, academic even. A critic is already a kind of theorist. He or she inevitably deals with ideas that have social, polit ... (read more)