By Alan Garner
This latest fiction from a remarkable and enduring talent brilliantly illuminates an introspective young mind trying to make sense of the world around him.
Joe Coppock squints at the world with his lazy eye. He reads his comics, collects birds’ eggs and treasures his marbles, particularly his prized dobbers. When Treacle Walker appears off the moor one day – a wanderer, a healer – an unlikely friendship is forged and the young boy is introduced to a world he could never have imagined.
In this playful, moving and evocative fable, set once again in his beloved Cheshire, the masterly Alan Garner delivers both a stunning fusion of myth and folklore and a profound exploration of the fluidity of time.Tweet
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A captivating read. Before reaching the end of each chapter I’d find myself re-reading previous passages just to be clear on what had just happened. It is sparsely written yet full of mythology and movement between worlds.
It is a very worthwhile read that would give up more and more with repeated reading. Fascinating and stays with you long after you have finished it.
Alan Garner’s late-life fable takes its title from its character Treacle Walker. I suspect that for most readers, though, it will be less like treacle and more like Marmite. You’ll either love it or wonder why other people find it so appealing.
It’s a good thing that the novel is so short, because it bears (perhaps even demands) repeated reading to unlock its messages.
The starting point in any discussion about Treacle Walker must be the book’s epigraph: “Time is ignorance,” an idea posited by the science writer Carlo Rovelli. Garner’s central theme is precisely this. In other words, if we could observe the universe from beyond our own limited (i.e. ignorant) perspective, time would cease to exist.
The only entity capable of doing this, of course, is an all-seeing god. Joe Coppock, the central character, has trouble with his eyesight, which means he is a perfectly-cast Everyman, representing us all. When he meets a bog man, Thin Amren, his sight changes, and suddenly he sees things differently. He can perceive the eternal in the present moment.
Treacle Walker has elements of Alan Garner’s many previous novels. It is human existence retold as fantasy. Things – not least time itself – move in circles. The first sentence of the book “Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!” is also the novel’s final line.
Like our own, Joe’s life is contained by limitations: the routine of Noony, the train that passes by each day at midday; a house that contains only the essentials of a bed and a hearth; and beyond the door the Middle Yard, as Treacle Walker calls it. There are echoes here of Midgard, the Old Norse term for Earth, where humans spend a brief period before passing to the afterlife. Indeed, at one stage late in the book, Joe asks: “Treacle Walker, am I dead?”
We must make our own interpretation. But it seems odd that an unhealthy child is living alone, with no parents or family.
Perhaps none of it is meant to make sense in the traditional meaning of the word. Rather, it’s Alan Garner’s meditation on time and existence from the perspective of someone who is 87 and has viewed the world through the prism of fantasy throughout his working life.
At the end of the day, though, Treacle Walker is still Marmite. Some readers will persevere with it and spend time looking up its many abstruse references and words. For others, it will just seem too much like hard work.
This was my first time reading a story by Alan Garner and by the end I’m intrigued to read more!
Does that mean I loved Treacle Walker? Not necessarily. Did I appreciate it? Yes. It read like a folktale, which I enjoyed and I tried to read it with a loose hold, not gripping and stressing, trying to understand all of the deeper meanings that must be hidden beneath its riddles and slang. I enjoyed the A-Ha music video bit, where a comic strip comes to life and Joe enters into it as well. I also appreciated the simplicity of the setting, the references to marbles and a time gone by. I loved how sparingly Garner writes, although I would have appreciated a more easily accessible story.
The prose threw me into the perspective of the protagonist, Joe, a child who seems to live alone. It follows the meandering, random actions and thoughts of a child. For me, it was tinged with a deep sadness, which didn’t compel me or allow me to enjoy it as a simple fable. At times I struggled to appreciate the simple imagery because of the language and colloquialisms but the character of Treacle Walker was a salve for me, a steady, reassuring presence.
I interpreted the story as that of Joe either being dead and passing on (or not passing on), through this strange but familiar landscape. Supported by the lack of parents, life and routine, Joe even asks at one point ‘Am I dead?’. But I can equally interpret it as Joe is very ill and these are fever dreams.
I think Garner is trying to convey a point, afterall it does read like a fable - Joe’s good and bad eye reminded me of Odin from Norse mythology, so perhaps it's a story about staying present but to keep one eye on the past. Or perhaps it’s a reminder that our actions have consequences.
Either way, I’m sure there was a profound meaning, or maybe there wasn’t and it really is just a random children’s story!
Thank you to @TheBookerPrize and @readingagency for the opportunity to read it! And to the Bridge Books Book Club for all the chats about it.
#BookerBookClubChallenge #BookerPrize2022 #BridgeBooksBookClub
Such a pleasure to be able to review this book as part of the #BookerBookClubChalleng
I have never read anything by Alan Garner before and what an introduction this unique book was. It is packed full of mythology, folklore and has a fable feel to it. The prose is full of colloquialisms, local dialect, paradoxes and slang.
Discussing the book with the members of our bookclub it became apparent there are so many ways to interpret the book and everyone took something different from it.
With the absence of Joseph's parents in the story, my interpretation is that he is dreaming, perhaps a fever dream from being unwell as he seems to be confined to the house.
The character of Treacle Walker reminded me of a mash up of Gandalf the White and the BFG. With his authorative presence and his riddles and language.
I think the great thing about this book is that every reader will come away with something different. 🪄