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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 'Shakespeare's Wife' by Germaine Greer

October 2007, no. 295 01 October 2007
Those who would have us believe that William Shakespeare was not the author of the poems and plays that bear his name – J. Thomas Looney and Sherwood Silliman come to mind – like to encourage the idea that almost nothing is known about his life. In fact, we have quite a lot of information about Shakespeare’s life, career and the cultural environment in which he wrote. What we do lack is any ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Inner Workings: Literary essays 2000–2005' by J.M. Coetzee

May 2007, no. 291 01 May 2007
In Doubling The Point (1992), one of J.M. Coetzee’s earlier collections of criticism, there is a long, closely argued essay titled ‘Confession and Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau, Dostoevsky’. It has a more scholarly flavour than much of Coetzee’s subsequent non-fiction – collected in Stranger Shores (2001) and his latest volume, Inner Workings – but it is a characteristically lucid ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Living Sea of Waking Dreams' by Richard Flanagan

November 2020, no. 426 22 October 2020
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams begins, self-consciously, at the limits of language. Its opening pages are rendered in a prose style that is fragmented and contorted. Sentences break down, run into each other. Syntax is twisted into odd shapes that call into question the very possibility of meaning. Words seem to arrive pre-estranged by semantic satiation in a way that evokes Gertrude Stein or Sam ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 1: 1929–1940' edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck

June 2009, no. 312 01 June 2009
The play that made Samuel Beckett famous, Waiting for Godot (1953), must be the most unlikely box-office success in theatre history. Its upending of dramatic expectations – its bathetic preferencing of repetition over development, tedium over excitement – is an act of aesthetic brutalism as outrageous in its way as Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ four decades earlier. Yet its depiction of ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Every Move You Make' by David Malouf

October 2006, no. 285 01 October 2006
David Malouf’s fiction has been justly celebrated for its veracity. His prose, at once lyrical and precise, has an extraordinary capacity to evoke what a character in an early story called the ‘grainy reality’ of life. For Malouf, small concrete details convey a profound understanding of the defining power of memory. He has a strong sense of the way the most mundane object can embody the pas ... (read more)

'A curse on art, a curse on society: Government contempt for the ABC, the arts, and the academy' by James Ley

August 2020, no. 423 24 July 2020
It is curious the way certain books can insinuate themselves into your consciousness. I am not necessarily talking about favourite books, or formative ones that evoke a particular time and place, but those stray books that seem to have been acquired almost inadvertently (all bibliophiles possess such volumes, I’m sure), and taken up without any particular expectations, books that have something ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'On Evil' by Terry Eagleton

October 2010, no. 325 01 October 2010
One of the more robust responses to what has come to be called the New Atheism has been that of the influential literary critic Terry Eagleton. He weighed into the argument early with an aggressive and widely cited critique of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006) in the London Review of Books, in which he charged Dawkins with theological ignorance. He extended his argument in a series of le ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Trials of Portnoy: How Penguin brought down Australia’s censorship system' by Patrick Mullins

June–July 2020, no. 422 26 May 2020
Listen to this review read by the author.  Okay, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this country. For a start, we have this profoundly stupid and deeply irritating myth that we’re all irreverent freedom-loving larrikins and easygoing egalitarians, when it is painfully obvious that we have long been a nation of prudes and wowsers, that our collective psyche has been warped by what Patric ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Ghost Writer' by John Harwood

April 2004, no. 260 01 April 2004
There is a species of Victorian mystery story that is as pure an expression of nineteenth-century rationalism as you are likely to find. A strange event occurs which, at first glance, appears to admit no rational explanation; by the end of the story, it is revealed to have a logical explanation after all. Thus foolish superstition is banished by the pure light of reason. But there is another side ... (read more)

'"How small the light of home": Andrew McGahan and the politics of guilt' by James Ley

April 2006, no. 280 30 October 2019
Andrew McGahan’s first novel, Praise (1992), concludes with its narrator, Gordon Buchanan, deciding – perhaps accepting is a better word – that he will live a life of contemplation. This final revelation is significantly ambivalent. The unresponsive persona Gordon has assumed throughout the novel is something of an affectation. On one level, he is playing the stereotypical role of the inarti ... (read more)