Treacle Walker

 Treacle Walker, by Alan Garner

This very short novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2022, which I find an unusual choice.  I like Garner; it's neat that he was up for the Booker; but did anybody understand this one?  OK, here we go:

Young Joe Coppock lives alone in an old house with a massive chimney, and he's supposed to wear a patch to strengthen his lazy eye.  When the rag-and-bone man comes by, Joe trades his old pajamas and a lamb bone he found for an old china pot and a donkey stone* marked with (from the description) the Uffington Horse.  Joe is stunned to find that these things give him the glamorie -- suddenly he can see things in other layers of reality, though only with one eye.  He and Treacle Walker, the rag-and-bone man, develop a strange friendship.

I'm not at all sure that Joe is actually alive.  He lives alone, reading his favorite comics (such as Stonehenge Kit, the Ancient Brit, Garner's own favorite from childhood) and playing with his marbles.  I'm not sure he eats.  This is a really strange story, though about what you'd expect if you know Garner's style.  When I read his last novel, Boneland, and Four British Fantasists at the same time, I commented:

Butler comments on Garner's movement toward prose that becomes starker and more reliant on dialogue -- so that it's not very easy to read -- and on his preoccupation with the area of Cheshire where his family has lived for generations.  Butler says that Garner wants to make his readers work a bit to enter the particular world of this one landscape; he doesn't just want to give it away to any-old-body.  That is certainly true; he is opaque to the point of frustration.  Butler contrasts this with DWJ's attitude -- which I find far more sympathetic -- that it isn't fair to write for children and assume that they can visit a particular place.

Garner is still opaque, though this time he doesn't seem so obsessed with Cheshire.  At least, I don't know where this story is supposed to take place; it seems more like an unspecific fantasy place.  Still mostly dialogue, still extremely obscure.  Indeed this story seems to be written for an audience of one -- Garner himself -- and not a lot of others.  Still, it's quite interesting, and you can see an artist at work, even if you don't know quite what you're looking at.  The brevity makes it a fascinating visit into a strange land, not lengthy enough to lose patience with the exercise.

*I had to look up donkey stone; it was a manufactured product that was first used to make factory steps non-skid, and then to put a finish on doorsteps.  You've probably seen accounts of British housewives scrubbing and whitening their doorsteps; donkey stones were what they used.  The first brand stamped a donkey on it.


Popular posts from this blog

The Four Ages of Poetry

A few short stories in Urdu