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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 'Vernon God Little' by D.B.C. Pierre

December 2003–January 2004, no. 257 01 December 2003
‘The fucken oozing nakedness, the despair of being such a vulnerable egg-sac of a critter, like, a so-called human being, just sickens me sometimes, especially right now. The Human Condition Mom calls it. Watch out for that fucker.’ The speaker of these lines, fifteen-year-old Vernon Little, is a literary descendant of Huckleberry Finn. Like Huck, Vernon narrates his story in his own idiosync ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers' by Delia Falconer

August 2005, no. 273 01 August 2005
It is eight years since Delia Falconer published her successful début novel, The Service of Clouds. Eight years is a long time. It took James Joyce eight years to write Ulysses (1922). Eight years is one year longer than Joseph Heller laboured over Catch-22 (1961) and about six years longer than it took George Eliot to knock out Middlemarch (1871-72). Of course, when Falconer’s new novel is set ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Slow Man' by J.M. Coetzee

October 2005, no. 275 01 October 2005
Slow Man begins with an accident. Paul Rayment is cycling along an Adelaide street when he is struck by a car. When he emerges from a daze of doctors and painkillers, he discovers his life has been transformed by this random event. His crushed leg is amputated above the knee. From now on, he will require the attention of a full-time nurse to help with life’s most basic chores; his limited mobili ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Memories of the Future' by Siri Hustvedt

May 2019, no. 411 21 April 2019
Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel, Memories of the Future, weaves together three distinct threads. The overarching narrative, set in the recent past, unfolds contemporaneously with the book’s composition. It consists of the reflections of a writer with the mysterious initials SH, who is in her early sixties and lives in Brooklyn. She spends her days tending to her elderly mother and marvelling at t ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Exploded View' by Carrie Tiffany

March 2019, no. 409 22 February 2019
The term ‘exploded view’ refers to an image in a technical manual that shows all the individual parts of a machine, separates them out, but arranges them on the page so that you can see how they fit together. As the title of Carrie Tiffany’s new novel, it can be interpreted as a definitive metaphor and perhaps, in a somewhat looser sense, an analogy for her evocative technique. Various thing ... (read more)

Krapp's Last Tape (fortyfivedownstairs)

ABR Arts 05 November 2018
Krapp’s Last Tape was first performed in 1958, which places it towards the end of Samuel Beckett’s middle period: those fruitful postwar years during which he wrote his major plays, Waiting for Godot (1952) and Endgame (1957), and the three extraordinary novels known collectively as the ‘Molloy Trilogy’ (1951–58). Between them, these works have come to define the themes and the aesthetic ... (read more)

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)