I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book and even after finishing it, I had no idea what had just happened. This story is a coming-of-age, folklore-filled, time-bending, fever dream. I was constantly surprised, periodically a little confused, but was very taken in by the world that Garner creates for Joe, our little man. Overall, the story was a little meandering, and while I enjoyed the action and conflict, it became a little repetitive. I also know nothing about physics, not do I necessarily have a huge interest in it, so that may have played a role in my perception of the novel.
An interesting and thought provoking read.
Many thanks to Scribner and to NetGalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Treacle Walker, by Alan Garner, is a little book, a strange book, a layered book, a mystifying book, a linguistic romp of a book, a stimulating book, a delightful book. It may also be, to employ two of the many Google-necessitating words from the book, a hurlothrumbo or lomperhomack, a macaroni or taradiddle of a book, though I’ll leave it to your own investigations as to whether any of those fit (if those few examples of Garner’s dialect didn’t scare you off, which they absolutely should not).
It’s also a book that is very difficult to discuss substantively without moving into spoiler territory. So before I head in that direction, I’ll just say this for this wishing to avoid any spoilers. The novel centers on Joseph Coppock, a young boy just over an illness and who is wearing an eye patch to heal a lazy eye. When a rag and bone man shows up, and Joseph gives him an old pair of pajamas and a lamb’s shoulder blade bone he’d collected in exchange for an old jar with some ointment and donkey-stone, Joseph ends up in a series of surreal encounters with a bog man, a cuckoo, a doppelgänger, comic book characters escaping from their pages, and more. Very little is straightforward, even less is explained, the language, as noted above, can be obscuring rather than illuminating, and it closes on an ambiguous note. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m obviously therefore recommending it, but if any of the prior information gives you pause, given its relatively few pages (and some of those blank or with just a chapter number), I’d say give it a shot for a while and see if you sink or swim.
Stop here if you want to avoid spoilers.
OK, going in,
So at the end of the book (stop wincing; I warned you), Joseph asks, “Treacle Walker, am I dead?”, and that’s as clear a signpost (though still muddy) one gets in one possible reading of this strange little book , though only one.
That one perhaps reading is thst Joseph has died at or shortly before the novel’s start. This reading doesn’t simply rely on that direct question at the end; there are several clues along the way, We’re told Joseph has been ill, that he can’t be in the sun for long, he multiple times moves between spaces — land and water, though a mirror, he marks time by a train that goes by every day at noon but never seems to return, he looks upon a doppelgänger of himself, his parents (or any adults beyond the two mythic figures) are nowhere to be seen, he has a second sight that allows him to see beyond the “normal”! And more, Perhaps the most direct hint, depending on one’s reading background,, is when the big man, Thin Amgen, calls Treacle Walker a psychopomp, which is a spirit that guides souls to the place of the dead. These are all layered one atop the other in skillful fashion, an accretion of detail and action that eventually make us wonder if the story we thought we were reading isn’t the the actual story at all. I loved the way all these bits and pieces added up to a larger picture, and loved as well Joseph’s varying bits of utter confusion, frustration, and even anger, all of which seems more than fitting if the above reading is a correct one.
Then again. As noted, it’s only a possible reading, and one that is complicated by other elements of the story. For instance, how do we fit in Thin Amran, who (maybe? Perhaps?) sleeps and dreams the world until he is awakened (maybe? Perhaps?) by Joseph and then has to be put back under the fen water by him? Honestly, I’m not at all sure what to make of him, save that I loved his old magic, mythic quality and would mourn his absence in this story.
Then there’s the ointment in that old jar, which gives Joseph second sight in one of his eyes, allowing him to pierce the veil of the mundane. Would he need an ointment if he’s spirit or half spirit himself? I’m not sure I can square that circle, but once more, I loved it for what it allows — a seemingly normal visit to an optometrist where Joseph reads the eye chart in the form of nonsense and even non-existent letters but which turn out to be, when Joseph shows Treacle Walker the letters he’d written down on paper, a Latin phrase that translates as “This stone is small of little price; spurned by fools, more honored by the wise.” Which could refer to Joseph’s Donkey stone, but also this book itself, which is indeed both small and worthy. It also allows for the wonderful metaphor of a “lazy eye” an affliction one might say too many of us suffer from in the way we do not see the fantastical that lies before us every day, every moment, in the pulsing of our blood through the wondrous machine that is our body, in the flight of an insect or bird, the slow creep of a snail, the trail of a raindrop down a windowpane, and the list goes on literally to infinity, At one point, Joseph asks if Treacle Walker can remove the glamour from his eye, and Walker tells him he can restore him to his “blindness.” Joseph, though, decides to keep his gift of sight, to accept the change in himself and open himself to the wondrous peril or perilous wonder of the world entire,
In fact, he does more that keep his second sight. For when he asks Treacle Walker what he himself desires, Walker notes he’s never been asked that before, then answers “To hear no more the beat of Time. To have no morrow and no yesterday. To be free of years … Oblivion. Home.” And then Joseph tells him to “Buck up … and bugger off to summer stars,” before leaping onto the rag and bone man’s cart and finding the magical words that came “from within and without and the dark and the light and the knowing” to get the pony moving, taking Walker’s place and starting the first of what one assumes will be his many rounds.
A happy ending? A sad ending? Both and neither perhaps, one from the dark and the light. But also not an ending at all, as Walker tells him earlier, but simply a change to “another place.” For me, it was a perfect ending, or transition, to a book that maybe isn’t perfect, but which utterly captivated and enthralled me in character and world, in act and word.
First published in the UK in 2021; published by Scribner on November 14, 2023
Alan Garner has a long history of incorporating mythology into his stories. Garner draws on those roots and more modern sources, including a World War II era comic book, to conjure a delightful story about an aging man who might be the modern version of a wizard and a young boy who might become his successor.
Treacle sells rags and bones (ragbone) from his pony cart. Joe Coppock trades his old pajamas and a lamb’s shoulder blade for the opportunity to pick anything from Treacle’s treasure chest. He picks an old pot that seems to be the only treasure with no value. Treacle also gives Joe a stone.
Treacle tells Joe that he makes people better: “I heal all things; save jealousy.” Joe wears a patch over his good eye to force his lazy eye to become more industrious. Following Treacle’s directions, Joe dips the stone in water and his name appears in silver letters. Soon he finds that his vision has changed. His lazy eye is still lazy but each eye gives him different view. One perceives the world as Joe believes it to be while the other sees things (and people) Joe cannot otherwise see. The differing views place Joe in a “flustication” (apparently, a state of confused excitement that is similar to intoxication).
When Joe gets lost in a bog, he meets Thin Amren, who needs to live in the bog so he won’t dry out. When he sleeps, Thin Amren dreams existence into reality. Joe is only lost because he hasn’t learned how to separate the realities he sees through each eye. Thin Amren explains that Joe is gifted with the glamourie. When he sees through his good eye, he can easily spot his house; when he uses the lazy eye, the bog is everywhere. Perhaps the lazy eye allows him to see into the distant past or the far future or both at once.
The other notable characters come to life from the 1940s UK comic Knockout, including Stonehenge Kit the Ancient Brit. The story hints at Wonderland as Joe runs through mirrors. Joe’s adventures also reminded me of Little Nemo in Slumberland in their dependence on dream logic.
The story might be read as a coming-of-age novel, in that Joe comes to realize that his life has changed and that change should be embraced, not feared. When Joe abandons his old life at the novel's end (his parents are never in sight so he gives no thought to missing them), he seems to be riding off to meet his destiny.
Fans of playful language might want to put Treacle Walker on top of their reading lists. Treacle uses words that don’t seem quite real to my American ear, although they mostly are. In British slang, “taradiddle” means a petty lie or pretentious nonsense. “Macaronics” refers to words from one language used in the context of a different language. “Nomines” seems to be a Yorkshire word for “children’s chants.” Garner uses “hurlothrumbo” as a reference to the supernatural (the word derives from a “nonsense play” of the same name that Samuel Johnson published in 1729). Unless you have an unusually extensive vocabulary and knowledge of British culture, you should keep Google handy to enjoy the full meaning of Treacle’s diatribes. I also love his description of a hammock as “a lot of holes tied with string.”
During his long life, Garner has written books for children and adults. Children would probably enjoy Treacle Walker — they might identify with Joe when he sobs “I’m only little, I’m only little” — but this is a novel for grownups who haven’t lost their wonder at the world. The novel is short and, in its brevity, confounds the reader with more ideas than most authors can manage in a trilogy. While I’m not sure the ideas entirely make sense to reality-grounded adults, I’m recommending the book for its inventive prose and for a story that will make perfect sense to children and to adults who recall how the power of imagination helps children make sense of the world around them.
What a sweet and scary foray into fantasy land. This book was challenging in its imaginativeness. How can one book fit such a large world inside?
This was really beautiful, conceptually, and I appreciate this work very much! However, I just don’t have the background for a read like this and I didn’t realize this prior to requesting. I did have to put this down many times to research references and tidbits to understand what was going on, still, I had a hard time with it. I wish I had all the knowledge going into this that is in a way necessary to be able to fully understand and enjoy it, because it did sort of feel like I was studying in order to grasp it.
However that is in no way an expression of lacking on part of the author, but on me.
Alan Garner has been telling his version of British Folklore and writing children’s fantasy novels for decades. I have not read him before, but Treacle Walker caught my attention because of a nomination for the Booker Prize, and I liked the cover of the new edition published by Scribner.
The story starts with Joe, a young kid who is seemingly up to his own devices at all times. He meets Treacle Walker, a wanderer, healer, and someone who Joe becomes friends with. Joe is a lonely kid, reading comics, wearing an eyepatch to correct a lazy eye, and collecting bird eggs and marbles. When he gets attention, any attention, he is drawn to the person, and in this case, Joe gets into quagmires where only Treacle Walker can help him.
Joe’s life is changed when he meets Treacle Walker, and there are many odd things that happen to Joe after they meet. The world around him does not seem real, or real to him. The whole of the novel is Joe trying to find his place in a world that he does not quite understand. The fantasies that he has, about his comic book characters coming to life and his eye that has been under the patch being able to see into a parallel universe when he takes his eyepatch off, are way that he tries to figure out a world that does not make much sense. He is supposed to trust adults, but the adults are only there to trick him, so he spend the whole story trying to find his moorings. Treacle Walker is his only help, and even in this, he is not very helpful.
I enjoyed this short novella, even with the language being somewhat difficult at times to navigate. There are many words and phrases that are very colloquial to the area where Joe lives. This can be distracting and not terribly inviting for a reader who has no clue about this region of the world. I feel like Garner does this on purpose, like those who are outside of this region needs to be off of their moorings like Joe is throughout the novella. He tries and is somewhat successful in repeating Joe’s experience by making his confusion our experience as well.
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book absolutely confused me, bewildered me, left me wanting more and wanting less. I think this book is suited for a critical reader, one willing to put the work into the text. That, unfortunately, did not happen with me in this book (through no fault of the book!). I’m leaving it unrated on my public media, because I felt it would do a disservice to the author and the text to give a bad rating based solely on my reading preferences. Particularly since I do believe that this is a GOOD book, just not for me.
Thank you to Harper Collins & netgalley for thé advance copy!
I am so very thankful to Scribner/Simon and Schuster, Netgalley, and Alan Garner for granting me advanced digital access to this vastly immersive collection of prose and shorter narratives. This piece hits shelves on November 14, 2023 and I'm so gracious to have received advanced looks inside.
“Treacle Walker” by Alan Garner - (3.5 Stars) (Pub Date:11/17/2023) was a myth, inside of a folktale, inside of a dream all in what I assume is British vernacular which rendered the story a little less accessible to me as an American reader.
Good Things: The sparseness of language lent itself to the folktale/legend feel of the story. Because I struggled to follow the vernacular speech patterns of the characters, I felt even more like a guest in a legendary place. Finally, to avoid spoilers, I will say that the metaphor about ideas and stories is as good as the literal story itself.
Opportunities: Not to mention a third time, but I need to mention a third time…the spoken text was almost impossible for me to follow along with. I read very quickly, and trying to translate the idioms and characters' verbal interaction not only slowed me down, it took me out of the story entirely. When I had to pause every 2-3 sentences or sections to figure out what the character was saying by context clues and verbal read-aloud phonetics, my mind would wander. This feels like one of those works of art that I recognize and appreciate as a work of art, but fully acknowledge that it’s not my personal favorite style of art.
Final Thoughts: Read this because it’s new but feels ancient. Read this to experience the narrative language. Read this to think and feel new thoughts in creative ways. Read this because it’s short and punchy. Read this to find yourself thinking little tiny new thoughts you’ve never thought before.
I appreciate the opportunity afforded me to have an early read of this story by netgalley and Scribner. The opinions in this review are expressly those of ButIDigressBookClub and are intended for use by my followers and friends when choosing their next book. #butidigress #butidigressbookclub #treaclewalker #alangarner #scribnerbooks #netgalley #netgalleyreviewer #arc #arcs
Review Shared on Goodreads - www.goodreads.com/leah_cyphert_butidigressbookclub
Publishing Review 11/14/2023
I was taken by surprise when I started reading this short novel. I was expecting something literary but this was beyond my expectations. I found myself wanting to fly through the story but slowing down to appreciate the playful language and literary devices being used. I found the themes to be rich and engaging, without losing the fairytale and playful aspect.
This begins as a story about a boy (Joe) with an eye affliction that causes him to need an eye patch over one eye. He hears someone (Treacle Walker) on the street beneath his window yelling for trades of certain items for something new. He decides why not and we’re off. It reminds me a little of Jack and the Beanstalk in this regard. Joe slowly learns about his newfound objects and the qualities they bring, including “curing his eye problem”, although what that cure entails was never agreed upon. This is a story that will likely be best enjoyed with reading and rereading for the fullness of the language and subcontext.
#TreacleWalker #NetGalley #Scribner
I picked this book and put it down twice before I decided to really dig in. It’s a short book – 152 pages – it should be a quick read, right?
Treacle Walker is a captivating blend of myth & folklore, and a thought-provoking treatment of sight (and all it means), healing, and age. But this is not an easy book to read. For starters, it’s written in dialect which took me some time to understand. (I was reminded of the first time I read A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh.) And this is not a superficial book. It is layer upon layer of story and observation, which takes some concentrated reading.
I’m finishing a year of mostly soft reading where I’ve read stories with linear plots that end with positive resolutions. It’s been that kind of year where reading was an escape. This one is anything but soft.
The thing that pulled me in and kept me reading was when I realized the catalyst to the action was derived from one of my favorite childhood folktales involving ointment that when applied to human eyes allows you to see the faerie world all around you.
The concept of a person seeing things that “aren’t there” is something I’ve struggled with especially in my professional life over the last few years as we’ve seen more and more library visitors experiencing mental health crises. People seeing the world in different ways is a real thing and Garner beautifully communicates all the emotions Joseph experiences as this happens to him – his fear, frustration, confusion, and curiosity drive the story.
This is especially poignant as we reach the end, where Joseph becomes the one to make the world a’right again. He says tearfully “I’m only little. I’m only little.” But he has done a thing that is really big. He’s changed and grown despite the challenges.
There’s so much to unpack in this book. I haven’t even talked about Treacle Walker himself, who is certainly an allegory for time and aging. This would make a fabulous book discussion selection for a group really willing to bite into the text and chew on it.
Although Treacle Walker serves as my introduction to Alan Garner’s literary canon, it won’t be my last of his books. This short, captivating, and, yes, puzzling novel packs a wallop. Although I readily admit to not fully understanding it, I’m not only glad I read it, but also feel that I will remember it after having forgotten many other books I read.
Garner gifts us with four memorable characters: Joseph Coppock, Treacle Walker, the eye doctor, and Thin Amren, each of whom is larger than life, a character that seems to have stepped out of folklore or fantasy. Although readers never learn Joseph Coppock’s age, Joe at times seems an innocent child with marbles and comics, at other times too old to be a child. Joe lives alone, sleeping on a mattress on top of what must be an overturned “chimney cupboard.” For Joe, time is marked only by the passage of Nooney, the train, which passes once a day, always in the same direction, letting Joe know that the time is “Now.” In an effort to correct his “lazy eye,” Joe wears an eye patch.
Life seems to go on much the same for Joe Coppock until the arrival of Treacle Walker, the rag and bone man, who looks both old and young, depending on how Joe looks at him. Treacle Walker offers Joe a pot and a stone in exchange for a rag and a bone. After handing over an old pair of pajamas and a lamb’s shoulder bone taken from his private museum of bird eggs and bones, Joe selects a chipped white jar with lid and a stone containing the image of a horse, each of which has magical properties. The jar’s contents, a green- violet substance, changes Joe’s vision, endowing him with “the glamourie,” making him see differently as he changes eye patch from one eye to the other or removes it altogether.
Joe’s meetings with the eye doctor, Thin Amren (the naked bog man), and recurrent meetings with Treacle Walker focus on sight and its relationship with time. Joe’s changing sight takes him back and forth through time, enabling him to see what isn’t there and to enter the reality of his favorite Knock-Out comic characters, such as Stonehenge Kit the Ancient Brit, Whizzy, and Brit Basher.
“Time is ignorance, the epigraph tells us, and readers of Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker travel through time, learning what it is like not to be bound by time and experiencing multiple realities as the titular rag and bone man mentors and heals Joe.
Enjoy the nonsense words, rhymes, and riddles. Be prepared to learn about the glamourie, shimmerings, donkey stones, the Corr Bolg, and more. Occasional online research will help you along the way.
Thanks to NetGalley and Scribners for the advance reader egalley of this wild ride of a book!
I know, I know, this was short listed for the Booker Prize and it's short but......I found this confusing and unsatisfying. Garner incorporates British folklore into a novel about a young boy with a lazy eye. I'm sure this works well for those who know the stories but it didn't for me. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. Classic Booker territory.
I was entirely unimpressed by this novel and still unimpressed even after I read some reviews that explained the abundance of English folklore and references to previous work that Alan Garner had included. <a href="http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/the-critic-and-the-clue-tracking-alan-garners-treacle-walker/">This review</a> by Maureen Kincaid Speller was particularly helpful.
With the aforementioned allusions to English folklore, I can see why this was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. However, these allusions made this novella largely inaccessible to non-UK readers, which isn't necessarily a critique, but more of an explanation for my lack of enjoyment in reading it. Particularly since, even after my knowledge of these niche cultural references, I didn't find the payoff to the plot and character development worth it. But perhaps this is because I don't have any attachment to the folklore that was deemed "cleverly" entwined into the plot. I'm sure that if these references were that of my culture, I would feel the magnetism of these easter eggs. Unfortunately, my north magnetic pole is simply located elsewhere.
TL;DR: Good book, I'm just not the target audience.
<i>Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for the eARC. All thoughts were my own.</i>
Alan Garner is some kind of weird distinctly English genius who is stuck at the point between memory, folklore, and dreams. His retelling of folk tales are crisp, short, beautiful and can take your brain out of your skull, turn it upside down, and place it right back in. His novels function similarly, though my familiarity with those being generally limited to his output from the 1960s and this fantastical little thing from 2021. If you are the sort of reader who values clarity of plot, story, characters, or a strong sense of reality in your books, this is not for you, nor is Alan Garner.
My take on the plot is that a young boy (who might also be the spirit of an old dying man) is dying and he is visited by two spirits (or sprites or supernatural beings or who knows what they are) who are there to either guide him and/or compete for his soul. But they might not actually be competing and it might not really be about his soul specifically, maybe something more like cultural memory or wherever you would fit folklore on that continuum between the personal and collective. Hard to tell really, and I don't think it ultimately matters. I think the goal of the book is to put you in that magic (culturally English) realm that you find in King Arthur stories and Lewis Carroll--who also happened to be from Cheshire. There also is some indication that this may be a bit of a farewell tale from Garner, as it hits on most of his "greatest hits" and all coalesces in one beautiful quote in the final chapter about death which I will not share here on the count of this being an ARC review (sorry).
There are a litany of references to folk stories and historical figures, many of whom I am not at all familiar with. But, I didn't feel like I needed to be as Treacle Walker is ultimately about time, and the magical world of memory, dream, and deep cultural history. Wordplay abounds, which seems to hold some oblique references to other works---though the artistic relevance of some of it is lost on me. I found myself wondering if these meant to sort of slosh around in there like memories lapping against the shore of a dying brain that may not make any traditional sense, but seem related somehow.
Ultimately, I found it a bit messy, too deeply mired in references, and intentionally hard to follow at times (something I take issue with). Though there are beautiful passages and the feeling of some deep mysterious magic does abound. Thankfully, the book is short so you are kind of able to dip in and out before it becomes overwhelming. I would recommend this book for completists or those already familiar with Garner's oeuvre but not for the beginner. Those just getting into him should check out The Collected Folk Tales first. If those don't jive with you, this might not be the right place for you.
Thanks to Scribner for the Advance Reader Copy.
Joe is a boy who seemingly lives alone in a house. He has a lazy eye and wears a patch over the good eye. Joe reads comic books and listens everyday for Noony, the noon train to pass by. One day the rag and bone man stops outside his door. Joe trades his pajamas and a lamb shoulder bone for a jar and a stone. The rag and bone man is called Treacle Walker and he trades in magic and wisdom.
This is the first Garner book I've read and it's not my usual genre. When I finished the slim 151 page book I wasn't sure what actually happened in the story but I knew it was something wonderful. The language and rythmn of the prose is entrancing. There are marvelous words such as "crinkumcrankums." hurlothrumbo," and "lomperhomock." Comic book characters come alive. Joe meets a bog man, winter comes through the door when it's summer outside. A wonderful journey into mysterious places!
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to meet the rag and bone man.
There are three characters in this novel. The first is Treacle Walker, a rag and bone man who visits the other main character. Joe is a small boy who lives alone and has a lazy eye. Thin Amren is a character who seems to be spiritual; a creature who lives in the nearby bog.
Joe wants Treacle Walker to help him make the world make sense. He wants a cure for his eye and for his vision to be perfect. Treacle gives him gifts and some allow Joe to see Thin Amren and help him while others take him into other dimensions. Joe also is interested in marbles and comics. His comics often come to life, making them surreal to Joe.
This short novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is full of imagery and nonsense terms. Alan Garner, who is in his late eighties, is known for his works of fantasy and the use of English folklore in his works. There can be much discussion about what is meant by the various characters and their traits. Joe seems to be attempting to find a vision, both his physical vision and a more poetic one that will help him interpret the world. Treacle Walker is like a favorite uncle, always teasing but indulging one's desires. This book will be discussed for many years and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
The stories are rife with hard-hitting themes and complex complicated characters. You would think this would be the perfect type of book for me. It wasn’t but I didn’t dnf and that says something.
Alan Garner is a living legend. Having said that, this book is a minor offering. While rich in imagery and language, it’s a short and lightweight addition to the oeuvre. Hate to give it a moderate score. Read the earlier books.