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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 'Everything and Less: The novel in the age of Amazon' by Mark McGurl

April 2022, no. 441 23 March 2022
On 21 July 2021, one of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, staged a press conference in the small town of Van Horn, Texas, the purpose of which was to boast about his recent ten-minute joy ride into space atop a rocket so comically penis-shaped that one could be forgiven for thinking that the whole exercise was intended as an outrageously expensive joke, albeit one that Mel Broo ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'A New Literary History of America' edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors

March 2010, no. 319 01 March 2010
Cynthia Ozick’s most recent collection of criticism, The Din in the Head (2006), contains a brief but engaging essay called ‘Highbrow Blues’. It begins with her musing about a gaffe made by Jonathan Franzen following the publication of The Corrections (2002). Oprah Winfrey had selected Franzen’s novel for her televised book club, which was popular enough to turn any work she chose into a b ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Magician' by Colm Tóibín

September 2021, no. 435 19 August 2021
Colm Tóibín’s eleventh novel, The Magician, is a dramatisation of the life of Thomas Mann. It begins in 1891 with the death of Mann’s father, a successful businessman from the north German city of Lübeck, whose last agonised words to his fifteen-year-old son are, ‘You know nothing.’ It ends in 1950, five years before Mann’s death at the age of eighty, when he returns to Europe after a ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Along Heroic Lines' by Christopher Ricks

August 2021, no. 434 22 July 2021
The first essay in Christopher Ricks’s Along Heroic Lines is the text of his inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, an honorary post he held from 2004 to 2009. He takes as his subject the formal distinction between poetry and prose. If one is going to be a professor of poetry, the least one can do is arrive at a satisfactory definition of one’s object of study. To this end, Ricks ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The power of the reader’s mind over a universe of death' by Harold Bloom

May 2021, no. 431 26 April 2021
Listen to this article read by its author.   Harold Bloom died in 2019 at the age of eighty-nine. Always prolific, he continued working until the very end. Throughout his final book, he digresses at regular intervals to record the date, note his advanced age, and allude to his failing health. At one point, he reveals that he is dictating from a hospital chair. Could a book composed under ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Fifty Key Literary Theorists' by Richard J. Lane

March 2007, no. 289 01 March 2007
The title of Richard J. Lane’s guidebook contains a small allusion to the changes that have occurred in literary studies over the past half-century. There was a time when universities trained critics; these days, everyone is a theorist. The distinction might be regarded as minor, academic even. A critic is already a kind of theorist. He or she inevitably deals with ideas that have social, polit ... (read more)

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)