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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 'T.S. Eliot and the Dynamic Imagination' by Sarah Kennedy

September 2018, no. 404 23 August 2018
When the bloated and pocky corpse of literary studies is finally thrown from the battlements of the ivory tower in a futile attempt to appease the unappeasable forces of neoliberal corporatism, the thoughts of the incorrigible few who thought it was a worthwhile intellectual pursuit will naturally turn to the question of what went wrong. I trust when the time comes ⎯ sooner rather than later, on ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Why Dylan Matters' by Richard F. Thomas

May 2018, no. 401 26 April 2018
There was a certain predictability to the arguments that flared when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. For the most part, they were variations of the arguments that have shadowed him from the beginning of his career, twisted echoes of a million late-night dormitory discussions about whether his lyrics are ‘poetry’. The oddly revealing thing about them was the extent ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'First Person' by Richard Flanagan

November 2017, no. 396 25 October 2017
The literature of the modern era contains any number of stories about doppelgängers, divided selves, alter egos, obsessive relationships, and corrosive forms of mutual dependence. The enduring appeal of these doubling motifs is that they give a dramatic structure to abstract moral and psychological conflicts, but they can also be used to suggest that there is something unresolvable or false about ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Choke' by Sofie Laguna

September 2017, no. 394 24 August 2017
The Choke is full of holes. I mean that literally, which is also to say (since we are talking about a novel) symbolically. It contains any number of insinuating references to wounds, ditches, gaps, and voids. The primary implication of these can be grasped if one recalls that ‘nothing’ was Elizabethan slang for female genitalia. Sofie Laguna’s narrator, a ten-year-old girl named Justine Lee, ... (read more)

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)