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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 'Zero K' by Don DeLillo

June–July 2016, no. 382 23 May 2016
Among Don DeLillo's sixteen previous novels, White Noise (1985) is commonly held up as the apotheosis of his satirical vision, while his postwar epic Underworld (1997) tends to be lauded as his grand statement, his unofficial entry (they're all unofficial) in the never-ending competition to write the Great American Novel. For me, the essential DeLillo novel is Libra (1988), his fictionalised acco ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime' by Harold Bloom

April 2016, no. 380 24 March 2016
As he reminds his readers on numerous occasions in The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, Harold Bloom is now well into his eighties. He has spent a lifetime teaching and writing about literature at Yale University, where he has long claimed to constitute a 'department of one'. The claim is part lament, part affectation, part boast. But it is true enough that Bloom is an un ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Heart Goes Last' by Margaret Atwood

October 2015, no. 375 25 September 2015
The Heart Goes Last is set in a not-so-distant future in which the economy of the United States has collapsed. In the wake of a major financial meltdown, those rich enough to flee have taken up residence in floating offshore tax havens, leaving the rest of the population to cope with a society ravaged by spiralling unemployment, drug addiction, and crime. The novel’s protagonists, a married coup ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'J.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing' by David Attwell

September 2015, no. 374 26 August 2015
Few, if any, contemporary authors have attracted the level of critical attention that is lavished upon J.M. Coetzee. No doubt there are many reasons for this, but a good part of the fascination with his fiction is a result of the evident rigour with which it is conceived. To read a Coetzee novel is to encounter a work that seems to have been thought through on every possible level. His writing not ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' by Richard Flanagan

October 2013, no. 355 26 September 2013
The past two decades have seen Richard Flanagan stride confidently into the first rank of Australian writers. His novels are notable for their historical reach, the boldness of their conception, and their willingness to tackle big subjects. They have won him many admirers. But they have also tended to divide opinion, often quite sharply, and this would seem to be a consequence of the fact that the ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Casual Vacancy' by J.K. Rowling

December 2012–January 2013, no. 347 28 November 2012
In the opening pages of The Casual Vacancy, a man named Barry Fairbrother collapses and dies in the car park of the Pagford Golf Club. For the next seven chapters, news of his premature demise spreads through the small English town. Reactions vary. ‘Fairbrother’s dead? … Good God … He wasn’t much past forty was he?’ ‘Gavin was only playing squash with him on Thursday.’ ‘Good God ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Voyage' by Murray Bail

October 2012, no. 345 27 September 2012
Murray Bail’s fiction has often been interpreted in light of its explicit rejection of a prevailing tradition of Australian realism that someone once described as ‘dun-coloured’. This rejection has manifested itself in his willingness to appropriate some of Australian literature’s hoariest tropes – the harsh beauty of the landscape, the issue of national identity, the inherited cultural ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Canada' by Richard Ford

July–August 2012, no. 343 09 July 2012
Richard Ford has earned a place among the most venerable practitioners of a durable brand of American realism. His fiction draws strength from its stolid traditionalism: its faith in the idea that formal conservatism, respectful attention to the lives of ordinary people, and a line-by-line dedication to the craft of writing are the surest paths to literary significance. His aesthetic, broadly spea ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Lives of the Novelists' by John Sutherland

April 2012, no. 340 01 April 2012
Here are some of the interesting things you may learn if you read John Sutherland’s Lives of the Novelists: ↓ that James Fenimore Cooper was expelled from Yale for training a donkey to sit in the professor’s chair ↓ that Evelyn Waugh once attempted suicide but was prevented from drowning by a passing shoal of jellyfish ↓ that Fanny Burney underwent a double mastectomy without anaesthe ... (read more)