THE flaneur is the emblematic figure of urban life, and even more so of psychogeography; the interested ambler, wandering wherever the city’s currents take him.
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And, French being a gendered language, the flaneur is always male.
It’s a distinction that some of his modern popularisers, among them Will Self and Iain Sinclair, have maintained, albeit generally with expressions of regret.
Elkin takes issue with that, and here revives the great women, from writers George Sand and Virginia Woolf to war photographer Martha Gellhorn, who proved more than a match for the boys.
It’s a story she intertwines with her own, as bored suburban girl becomes young academic and she gets to know some of the world’s great cities on foot.
Doubtless some readers will prefer one half of that mix, others the other, but the braiding works; like her male peers, she’s insisting on her own place in a great subcultural tradition.
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