James Ley

James Ley is Critic of the Month

James Ley
26 February 2014

When did you first write for ABR?

It was 2003, a review of Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre.

What prompted you to take up book reviewing?

An interest in literature and a break that gave me a chance to write professionally. The idea of being paid to read and think and write about books was very enticing, and stil ... More

James Ley reviews 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' by Richard Flanagan

James Ley
26 September 2013

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 ... More

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

James Ley
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 ... More

James Ley reviews 'The Voyage' by Murray Bail

James Ley
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 ... More

James Ley reviews 'Canada' by Richard Ford

James Ley
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 ... More

James Ley reviews 'The Lives of the Novelists' by John Sutherland

James Ley
21 March 2012

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 ... More

James Ley reviews 'Silence' by Rodney Hall

James Ley
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 ... More

James Ley reviews 'James Joyce: A Biography' by Gordon Bowker

James Ley
23 August 2011

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 ... More

James Ley reviews 'Heat: 24'

James Ley
19 April 2011

A declaration of interest is in order. I have twice appeared in the pages of HEAT. I am also in the latter stages of a doctorate, which I have been writing for the past few years under the supervision of HEAT’s editor, Ivor Indyk. Under normal circumstances, I would decline to review a new edition of the journal for these reasons. The latest edit ... More

James Ley reviews 'Freedom' by Jonathan Franzen

James Ley
07 December 2010

In 1996, with two well-received but not widely read novels to his credit, Jonathan Franzen published a long essay in Harper’s magazine in which he aired his concerns about the n More

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