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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 Essential Bird’ by Carmel Bird

June–July 2005, no. 272 01 June 2005
Carmel Bird stakes a great deal on her prose style. The delicate latticework of imagery, the fascination with detail and colour, the allusions, the linguistic gamesmanship, the florid descriptive passages (and Bird’s writing is literally florid: there are flowering plants everywhere) – these are at least as important to her fiction as narrative. Her writing does not just revel in the sensualit ... (read more)

James Ley reviews ‘Meanjin: On Psychology vol.63, no.4’ edited by Ian Britain and ‘Overland 177: The consolation of literature’ edited by Nathan Hollier and ‘Conversations vol.5, no.2’ edited by Brij V. Lal and Ian Templeman

March 2005, no. 269 01 March 2005
‘Meanjin,’ writes Ian Britain, ‘always aims for a blend of the astringent and the convivial.’ A worthy aim, and one that is well realised in its ‘Psychology’ edition. It may simply be a consequence of the theme’s depth and complexity, but On Psychology also feels weightier than previous issues. Britain shares responsibility for this edition with guest co-editor Robert Reynolds, a Sen ... (read more)

James Ley reviews ‘Australian Literary Studies’ edited by Leigh Dale, ‘Meanjin: Portraits of the artists’ edited by Ian Britain and ‘Southerly: Watermarks’ guest Edited by Nicolette Stasko and Mark Tredinnick, and edited by David Brooks and Noel Rowe

September 2005, no. 274 01 September 2005
In his Structure of Complex Words (1951), William Empson counted fifty-two uses of the words ‘honest’ and ‘honesty’ in Othello. Nikki Gemmell, the publicity-shy cover star of the latest edition of Meanjin, manages to cram ten references to honesty (her own) into five lachrymose pages of her essay ‘The Identity Trap’, in which she explains that she refused to publish The Bride Stripped ... (read more)

James Ley reviews ‘Knife: Meditations after an attempted murder’ by Salman Rushdie

June 2024, no. 465 22 May 2024
The opening pages of Knife give an account of the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie at a speaking engagement in upstate New York on 12 August 2022. His assailant charged out of the audience and onto the stage, where he attacked the author, using one of several knives he had brought along, for exactly twenty-seven seconds. Rushdie is precise about that detail, which one imagines is rather a long t ... (read more)

Commentary | I am the kind of person: Philip Roth and indignation by James Ley

March 2009, no. 309 01 March 2009
In TheGhost Writer (1979), the first of the nine Philip Roth novels in which Nathan Zuckerman plays a major role, the young Zuckerman uses a family squabble over an inheritance as the basis for a short story. His father is appalled. Why would Nathan depict his own family in such an unflattering light, perpetuate negative Jewish stereotypes, and give ammunition to anti-Semites? ‘You are not someb ... (read more)

James Ley reviews ‘The Best Australian Stories 2005’ edited by Frank Moorhouse

February 2006, no. 278 01 February 2006
When Frank Moorhouse took over the editorship of The Best Australian Stories in 2004, he promptly announced that he would be accepting submissions from anyone, regardless of whether they had a publishing history or not. He received and read, by his own estimate, about 1000 stories and gave six unknown writers the chance to be published for the first time. To his credit, he also took it upon himsel ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Reflected Light: La Trobe essays' edited by Peter Beilharz and Robert Manne

September 2006, no. 284 01 September 2006
In 1993, when he was editor of Quadrant, Robert Manne published a short essay, which is collected in his recent book Left Right Left (2005), called ‘On Political Correctness’. The essay rehearsed some familiar right-wing arguments against this ‘highly intolerant’ doctrine and the threat it posed to academic freedom. Manne’s political opinions have, of course, undergone a considerable rea ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'David Foster: The satirist of Australia' by Susan Lever

July–August 2008, no. 303 01 July 2008
When applied to art and literature, the word ‘serious’ can be used to suggest a work is substantial and important, not necessarily that it is the opposite of humorous. There is a sense in which Rabelais and Cervantes are serious writers. But the slippage between these two meanings – the fact that our language permits a casual conflation of worthiness and sincerity – reflects a long-standin ... (read more)

James Ley on Ralph Ellison and literary humanism

December 2023, no. 460 27 November 2023
Ralph Ellison could be abrasive. His biographer Arnold Rampersad records that James Baldwin thought Ellison ‘the angriest man he knew’. Shirley Hazzard observed that when Ellison was drinking he ‘could become obnoxious very quickly’. His friend Albert Murray recognised something in him that was ‘potentially violent, very violent. He was ready to take on people and use whatever street cor ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Last Love Story' by Rodney Hall

August 2004, no. 263 01 August 2004
There is often a speculative dimension to Rodney Hall’s fiction. Throughout his long career, he has tended to build his novels around alternative histories or unusual possibilities. Past works have imagined scenarios as diverse as Adolf Hitler arriving on the south coast of New South Wales and (where does he get his ideas?) Australia becoming a republic. The Last Love Story is in some respects u ... (read more)