James Ley

Last month in Melbourne, a group of book reviewers and literary editors took part in a conference organised by Monash University’s Centre for the Book. There were more than thirty short papers, or ‘provocations’, as they were styled. Our Editor lamented the low or non-payment of some reviewers (especially youn ...

James Ley: Searching for the Great American Novel

James Ley
Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Well, it’s Moby-Dick, obviously. Except when it’s Huckleberry Finn or Absalom, Absalom! or Invisible Man or Gravity’s Rainbow. The Great Gatsby will often do, if one is pressed for time.

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James Ley is Critic of the Month

Australian Book Review
Wednesday, 26 February 2014

There are a few things that are obvious enough to sound platitudinous: intelligence, knowledge, attentiveness, insight, and so forth. But I think a certain forthrightness and clarity of expression goes a long way. A sense of humour doesn’t hurt, either.

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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 ...

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

James Ley
Wednesday, 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 ...

James Ley reviews 'The Voyage' by Murray Bail

James Ley
Thursday, 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 i ...

James Ley reviews 'Canada' by Richard Ford

James Ley
Monday, 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 significa ...

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 o ...

James Ley reviews 'Silence' by Rodney Hall

James Ley
Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Isaiah Berlin famously divided people into two categories: hedgehogs and foxes. The former know one big thing with absolute certainty; the latter know many small things. When it comes to writers of fiction, a parallel distinction might be made on stylistic grounds. There are some writers who cultivate a finely attuned personal style – a style that becomes unmistak ...

Literary biography is an often derided genre. Writers, in particular, tend to be suspicious, if not openly hostile, toward what they are apt to regard as a secondary or parasitic form. And there are valid reasons for this wariness. The assumption behind a biography is, reasonably enough, that the writer’s life informs the work, but establishing the precise relevan ...

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