Accessibility Tools

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

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 'Reflected Light: La Tribe essays' edited by Peter Beilharz and Robert Manne

September 2006, no. 284 01 September 2006
In 1993, when he was editor of Quadrant, Robert Manne published a short essay, which is collected in his recent book Left Right Left (2005), called ‘On Political Correctness’. The essay rehearsed some familiar right-wing arguments against this ‘highly intolerant’ doctrine and the threat it posed to academic freedom. Manne’s political opinions have, of course, undergone a considerable rea ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'David Foster: The satirist of Australia' by Susan Lever

July–August 2008, no. 303 01 July 2008
When applied to art and literature, the word ‘serious’ can be used to suggest a work is substantial and important, not necessarily that it is the opposite of humorous. There is a sense in which Rabelais and Cervantes are serious writers. But the slippage between these two meanings – the fact that our language permits a casual conflation of worthiness and sincerity – reflects a long-standin ... (read more)

James Ley on Ralph Ellison and literary humanism

December 2023, no. 460 27 November 2023
Ralph Ellison could be abrasive. His biographer Arnold Rampersad records that James Baldwin thought Ellison ‘the angriest man he knew’. Shirley Hazzard observed that when Ellison was drinking he ‘could become obnoxious very quickly’. His friend Albert Murray recognised something in him that was ‘potentially violent, very violent. He was ready to take on people and use whatever street cor ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Last Love Story' by Rodney Hall

August 2004, no. 263 01 August 2004
There is often a speculative dimension to Rodney Hall’s fiction. Throughout his long career, he has tended to build his novels around alternative histories or unusual possibilities. Past works have imagined scenarios as diverse as Adolf Hitler arriving on the south coast of New South Wales and (where does he get his ideas?) Australia becoming a republic. The Last Love Story is in some respects u ... (read more)

James Ley reviews ‘Summertime: Scenes from provincial life’ by J.M. Coetzee and ‘The Cambridge Introduction to J.M. Coetzee’ by Dominic Head

September 2009, no. 314 01 September 2009
Over the course of his long and distinguished career, J.M. Coetzee has written fiction in an array of modes and genres. His books include works of historical and epistolary fiction, realism, allegory and metafiction. He has written novels that have developed complex and evocative intertextual relationships with some of his most significant literary influences – Daniel Defoe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, F ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 2: 1923–1925' edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton

May 2010, no. 321 01 May 2010
The first volume of  T.S. Eliot’s letters, published in 1988, covered his early life to the end of literary modernism’s annus mirabilis, 1922. The year was a turning point in the thirty-four-year-old Eliot’s career. In November he published the poem that made him famous, ‘The Waste Land’, in the inaugural edition of Criterion, the journal he was to edit until 1939. That it has take ... (read more)

James Ley reviews 'Sons of the Rumour' by David Foster

November 2009, no. 316 01 November 2009
At the end of her insightful critical study David Foster: Satirist of Australia (2008), Susan Lever quotes several rather despondent-sounding letters from her subject. In one, he claims to have lost his taste for satire; in another, he declares that he is ‘over’ literature. Yet he also expresses a continuing desire ‘to write books that are strange and beautiful’, and reveals he is at work ... (read more)

James Ley on J.M. Coetzee's 'The Life and Times of Michael K'

August 2023, no. 456 25 July 2023
‘Why should I be expected to rise above my times? Is it my doing that my times have been so shameful? Why should it be left to me, old and sick and full of pain, to lift myself out of this pit of disgrace?’ These are the words of Mrs Curren, the elderly narrator of J.M. Coetzee’s under-appreciated mid-period novel Age of Iron (1990), but it would be easy enough to find similarly anguished ... (read more)

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)