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The Booker Prize 2022 #8: Treacle Walker by Alan Garner

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Joe is watching time pass by, measuring his days by Noony, the train that comes past his window once a day. He is all alone in his house, living in a chimney, but someone does tell him to go to the doctor because he has been poorly, wears an eyepatch and is not supposed to play outside too much. Still, he cannot stay put when a pony-drawn wagon appears in front of his house. The rag-and-bone man calls Joe to his wagon, introduces himself as Treacle Walker, and offers a pot and a stone for an old set of pyjamas and a lamb’s shoulder bone the boy found. From here strange adventures unfold. As Joe wanders into the wood he meets Thin Amren, a naked bog man who diagnoses Joe with a glamourie, which allows him to see different dimensions but overwhelms and disorients the boy. Later he gets drawn into the comic books he was reading having to fight alongside its heroes. But Treacle Walker is never far in any of these experiences and helps the boy navigate the new worlds he gets to explore. Dreams, stories, and “real life” intersect, merge, and overlap as time for Joe is no longer what it used to be.

There is a lot in this little novella. A lot of plot as well as lots of information. Treacle Walker is brim filled with symbols, meanings and allusions to English folklore – fascinating, but difficult to grasp if you are not already acquainted with it. The power of myths for the expression and generation of truths is a central theme alongside the concept of time. Folklore and physics are closely connected in this tale. Apparently much of Garner’s interest in these themes was sparked by a physicist friend and he uses the novel to question the idea that time is linear. The boundaries between past and future, the real and the imaginary are always blurry. A combination of slangs, dialects and neologisms enhance this effect and create a lingering doubt about meanings. This absurd novella is an interesting piece of fiction, but also certainly a piece of work. If you don’t get all the references – which I didn’t – much of it will go over your head. But if you can handle the not-knowing, reading Treacle Walker is definitely worthwhile, even just for its play with language, its sounds and melodies.

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