Treacle Walker

(by Alan Garner)

Treacle Walker is the first book by Alan Garner that I’ve read, but it’s unlikely to be my last. I’ve been meaning to read something by him for years, and was reminded of that fact when I saw the UK edition of this one at the excellent Shakespeare & Sons bookstore in Berlin in September 2022. But I didn’t have much room in my luggage for books on that trip, so I didn’t buy it, and kind of forgot about it until I saw it at the library recently. I’m glad to have finally gotten around to it: it’s a quick and atmospheric read with some lovely language in it.

At the start of the book we meet a boy name Joe, who is apparently on his own in an old house with his comic books and marbles and collection of birds’ eggs. His days are anchored by the regular passing of the midday train that he calls Noony; he has names for the familiar places around him (“Barn Croft” and “Pool Field” and “Big Meadow”). Also at the start of the book we meet Treacle Walker, as Joe meets him: he’s a rag-and-bone man with a horse and a cart, and Joe brings him some old pajamas for rags and a lamb bone he found. In exchange, Treacle Walker tells Joe to pick something from his chest, which contains an excellent miscellany of “cups, saucers, platters, jugs, big and small: coloured, plain, simple, silvered, gilded, twisted; scenes of dancing, scenes of killing; ships, oceans, seas; beasts, birds, fishes, whales, monsters, houses castles, mansions, halls; cherubs, satyrs, nymphs; mountains, rivers, forests, lakes, fields and clouds and skies.” Joe picks a little jar with some writing on it, and Treacle Walker also gives him a donkey stone, with the somewhat cryptic advice to “Use it […] As you have need.” After which Joe and Treacle Walker go into the house, after which something strange happens, followed by more strange things.

Later, Joe, who wears an eye patch for a lazy eye, notices there are “traces of green violet paste” inside the jar he chose. Later, he touches the lid of his good eye with his finger, on which there are traces of that paste. Later, he sees an eye doctor, who tells him he’s seeing things with his good eye that “aren’t there.”

Further odd events ensue: Joe meets a strange man in a bog, and Treacle Walker explains that the chimney in Joe’s house is “the heart of all that is” and “the way between.” Everything feels permeable; everything converges: what is in Joe’s house and what is in the comic book; what is now and what is in the past, or maybe the future; what is in this world and maybe what is in some other world. (The fact that the book’s epigraph comes from a theoretical physicist is significant.)






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