A lovesick and desperate young man wanders through the city and meets over 200 people from Melbourne's past.
A young man ponders his future by the Yarra River and decides it's not worth living. Having made the decision to jump in and end it all, he's accosted by Captain Matthew Flinders, the English navigator who was the first to chart much of the coast of Australia. It is the real Flinders, straight out of the history books and now made flesh in contemporary Melbourne. The two strike up a conversation and the young man is suddenly distracted from his immediate woes. They begin to perambulate the city, somewhat like Boswell and Johnson traversed London centuries ago, and make their way through some of Melbourne's smaller lane ways and byways. Each street they enter, the person the street was named after makes an entrance and begins a conversation. Captain Flinders soon falls away, and the young man continues on in a feverish daze through the city's streets, meeting along the way over 200 historical figures - merchants, councilors, publicans, performers, builders, pastoralists and even the odd saint.
The cause of the young man's distress (who narrates the story, although we never learn his name) is Chloe, a barmaid at the Young and Jackson. Having enjoyed a brief, idyllic time together by the beach, he now finds himself estranged from his great love. As he notes of his troubles, “…mine is an extreme case. I measure this whole city by the pain I feel about her – I don’t know if anyone else has ever done such a thing.” Throughout the novel he seeks help for his romantic dilemma from Melbourne's fair and famous, only to receive useless or silly advice.
The young man yearns to find work as a shepherd – surely the simple life will cure his ills – but becomes discombobulated by so many random conversations and finally ends up drunk, staggering into the night. (He meets a succession of publicans who ply him with wine.)
Three Thousand is a self-published novel by writer A.E. Cochrane. A story based on such a conceit shouldn't really work. The whole idea risks getting bogged down in repetitiveness. What holds the book together is the engaging narrator and his lovesick plight, pining for a return to an idyllic past with Chloe the barmaid, a past that may have been experienced more in the imagination than in reality. The book reads like a mix of Voltaire's Candide, with its humorous escapades, and Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, for its melancholic romanticism (with a hint of the tongue-in-cheek). There's also a touch of Kafka thrown in as the narrator finds himself in a never ending maze, full of bubbleheaded famous people, with seemingly no way out. There is a lot of delightful wit in Cochrane's writing and his prose has an elegant precision, able to capture complex philosophical and religious concepts and render them in simple, often ironic, language.
History buffs will enjoy this clever story about Melbourne's early beginnings; readers of literature will derive much pleasure from the young narrator's personal story of romantic melancholy and bumbling adventure in the city.
Three Thousand, by A.E. Cochrane. Published by Decision Press. $25
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books