Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

James Ley

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 ...

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 ...

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 ( ...

Aproaching Thomas Wyatt’s great but notoriously resistant poem ‘They flee from me that sometime did me seek / With naked foot stalking in my chamber’, poet and critic Vincent Buckley wrote, ‘The sense of purposive yet mysterious activity created in this opening stanza is also a matter of its sensuousness … The critical problem is to define this … sensuousness … [I]t is not to identify the kind of animal suggested in the analogy. I have heard deer, birds, and mice proposed for this purpose; my own preference is for racehorses, but it is as irrelevant as any other. It is far more important to identify their action than to identify them.’

... (read more)

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.

There is something a bit ridiculous about the idea that a single book could become the definitive expression of an entire nation. This is perhaps especially true in the case of the United States, a country so vast, diverse, and contradictory that any attempt at a grand summation would appear doomed to fail. Nevertheless, as Lawrence Buell argues in The Dream of the Great American Novel, the concept of the ‘GAN’ (the nickname bestowed by no less an eminence than Henry James) has proved remarkably resilient. As Buell notes in his introduction, the idea tends not to be taken all that seriously these days: no novelist would admit to trying to write such a thing, except perhaps in jest, and no serious critic would be reckless enough to bestow such a title. And yet, he observes, paraphrasing an unnamed ‘distinguished reviewer’, it is ‘hard to think of a major American novelist who hasn’t given it a shot’.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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 ...

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

... (read more)

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 anxieties of the New World – and subject them to the ironising pressures of fictional constructs that wear their conceptualisation on their sleeve. The result is fiction that occupies the shifting ground between the formal rigours of modernism and the reflexive playfulness and generic self-consciousness associated with postmodernism. Bail’s later novels, in particular, beginning with his best-known book, Eucalyptus (1998), are concise, concentrated affairs that organise themselves around the kinds of overt structuring oppositions whose apparent simplicity seems to invite allegorical readings.

... (read more)

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 speaking, is that of a writer who reveres Anton Chekhov and John Cheever, thinks everything James Joyce wrote after The Dead was a mistake, and believes with Ernest Hemingway that the only eloquence manly enough to deserve respect is a plain-spoken eloquence.

... (read more)