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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 'The Slap' by Christos Tsiolkas

November 2008, no. 306 01 November 2008
In early 2018, Christos Tsiolkas published a long essay as part of a series commissioned by the Sydney branch of PEN, an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression. ‘Tolerance’, which appeared in Tolerance, Prejudice and Fear (2008), is an interesting document, not least for the way it highlights how compelling yet exasperating a writer Tsiolkas can be. Like much of his work, it is fired ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Death of Jesus' by J.M. Coetzee

October 2019, no. 415 25 September 2019
It is commonly accepted that the modern European novel begins with Don Quixote. Lionel Trilling went so far as to claim that the entire history of the modern novel could be interpreted as variations on themes set out in Cervantes’s great originating work. And the quality that is usually taken to mark Don Quixote as ‘modern’ is its irony. It is a fiction about fiction. The new sensibility it ... (read more)

'The tyranny of the literal' by James Ley

April 2005, no. 270 01 April 2005
For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own selves. These words appear towards the end of Erich Auerbach’s study of representation in Western literature, Mimesis. First published in 1946, the book has become a classic of twentieth-century literary criticism, but is almost as famous for the circumstances under which it was co ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Breath' by Tim Winton

May 2008, no. 301 01 May 2008
One of the intriguing things about Breath, Tim Winton’s first novel in seven years, is that it has a number of affinities with his very first book, An Open Swimmer (1982). Both are coming-of-age novels that attempt to capture some of the confusion and melancholy of youth. Both feature boyhood friendships which the characters outgrow. In both, the main protagonist, whose parents are emotionally d ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Vernon God Little' by D.B.C. Pierre

December 2003–January 2004, no. 257 01 December 2003
‘The fucken oozing nakedness, the despair of being such a vulnerable egg-sac of a critter, like, a so-called human being, just sickens me sometimes, especially right now. The Human Condition Mom calls it. Watch out for that fucker.’ The speaker of these lines, fifteen-year-old Vernon Little, is a literary descendant of Huckleberry Finn. Like Huck, Vernon narrates his story in his own idiosync ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers' by Delia Falconer

August 2005, no. 273 01 August 2005
It is eight years since Delia Falconer published her successful début novel, The Service of Clouds. Eight years is a long time. It took James Joyce eight years to write Ulysses (1922). Eight years is one year longer than Joseph Heller laboured over Catch-22 (1961) and about six years longer than it took George Eliot to knock out Middlemarch (1871-72). Of course, when Falconer’s new novel is set ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Slow Man' by J.M. Coetzee

October 2005, no. 275 01 October 2005
Slow Man begins with an accident. Paul Rayment is cycling along an Adelaide street when he is struck by a car. When he emerges from a daze of doctors and painkillers, he discovers his life has been transformed by this random event. His crushed leg is amputated above the knee. From now on, he will require the attention of a full-time nurse to help with life’s most basic chores; his limited mobili ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Memories of the Future' by Siri Hustvedt

May 2019, no. 411 21 April 2019
Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel, Memories of the Future, weaves together three distinct threads. The overarching narrative, set in the recent past, unfolds contemporaneously with the book’s composition. It consists of the reflections of a writer with the mysterious initials SH, who is in her early sixties and lives in Brooklyn. She spends her days tending to her elderly mother and marvelling at t ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Exploded View' by Carrie Tiffany

March 2019, no. 409 22 February 2019
The term ‘exploded view’ refers to an image in a technical manual that shows all the individual parts of a machine, separates them out, but arranges them on the page so that you can see how they fit together. As the title of Carrie Tiffany’s new novel, it can be interpreted as a definitive metaphor and perhaps, in a somewhat looser sense, an analogy for her evocative technique. Various thing ... (read more)

Krapp's Last Tape (fortyfivedownstairs)

ABR Arts 05 November 2018
Krapp’s Last Tape was first performed in 1958, which places it towards the end of Samuel Beckett’s middle period: those fruitful postwar years during which he wrote his major plays, Waiting for Godot (1952) and Endgame (1957), and the three extraordinary novels known collectively as the ‘Molloy Trilogy’ (1951–58). Between them, these works have come to define the themes and the aesthetic ... (read more)