Based on his blog of the same name, Nick Gadd’s latest book, Melbourne Circle, is ostensibly about circumnavigating 50-odd Melburnian suburbs in a series of connected walks. But this book is also a tender tribute to Gadd’s late wife, Lynne, his partner in these perambulations. Their first date saw them traipsing around the ruins of Pompeii and, until cancer took her away, walking together was a marked feature of their relationship. They shared a love of globetrotting adventures before deciding to settle down and look more closely around their home town.
Melbourne Circle is a good example of “psychogeography” – a term that takes in the exploration of urban environments in playful ways. And, indeed, the reader is offered unofficial histories of Melbourne in this memoir. Gadd melds his own story with idiosyncratic and layered tales about the suburbs he and Lynne visited; they took trains “to unfamiliar stations to walk, at random, down laneways, alongside creeks, and behind abandoned factories where taggers and street artists ran riot and hard-eyed men watched us with suspicion”. In keeping with the peripatetic wanderings of the inveterate flâneurs, the book’s narrative meanders down dusty corners and hitherto-unloved avenues.
Gadd’s previous offering, Death of a Typographer, was a genre-bending novel that was fun and cheeky in the way it made typefaces an intrinsic element of the plot, and here he also pays close attention to the faded beauty of typographical print that adorns former landmarks.
Beginning with the salty tang of bayside western suburb Williamstown in 2014, and ending at Port Melbourne and Fishermans Bend more than two years later, Melbourne Circle has maps of the routes undertaken in the book, which may prompt readers to traverse the same ground. Colour photographs are also included. From mangroves to bridges, factories, creeks and parks, Gadd moves past them all in his “usual psychojogging gear: comfortable rather than stylish”.
This is an endearing book about enduring love and serendipitous discoveries; of remnants of the past pasted on old buildings, and the way these ghost signs are portals into another time. When Gadd notes how there’s been loss, growth and regeneration, he’s talking about his own life as well as the life of his city, both freighted with memories.
Arcadia, 304pp, $29.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 30, 2021 as "Nick Gadd, Melbourne Circle".
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