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Treacle Walker

by Alan Garner

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4332359,001 (3.4)1 / 40
'Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!' Joe looked up from his comic and lifted his eye patch. There was a white pony in the yard. It was harnessed to a cart, a flat cart, with a wooden chest on it. A man was sitting at a front corner of the cart, holding the reins. His face was creased. He wore a long coat and a floppy high-crowned hat, with hair straggling beneath, and a leather bag was slung from his shoulder across his hip. 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 Cheshire 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.… (more)

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» See also 40 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
It is possible that my English just isn't good enough to understand this book. It seems like a phantastic story about a child's imagination between comic heroes and traditional tales. Short sentences, simple statements, children's language and apparent words of wisdom. I liked the sound of some of the short chapters, the wondrous atmosphere of the scenes described, but I'm afraid I just didn't get it. Very strange indeed. Too strange for me. ( )
  Bassgesang | Mar 11, 2024 |
‘What’s happening? What the heck’s up?’

That question voiced early on by the book’s protagonist, Joseph Coppock, understandably is also the question of many a reader of the book. I’d never read Alan Garner before and apparently it follows on to a great extent from his earlier work, but it also reminded me of a novel I read earlier this year by J. Robert Lennon, [b:Subdivision|53317439|Subdivision|J. Robert Lennon|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1589268128l/53317439._SX50_.jpg|81650704], in that it seems to take place in a sort of bardo realm influenced by our conception of quantum mechanics, and in which the protagonist has to overcome challenges that draw on mythological concepts as they gradually come to an understanding and acceptance of the current state of their personhood. Only this one uses much more archaic northern English dialect and the tone is closer to twee than malevolent.

I enjoyed the writing and the dialect and the words I had to look up, and am glad to have been introduced to Garner; it has made me interested in reading his other, presumably meatier novels. This one was just too short and not filled out enough for what it was trying to do for my preference, but it was a fairly frolicsome trip. ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
Joe looked again. The pony. The tree. The heat. He lifted the latch. A wind threw the door onto him, shoving him against the stack. And night spilled in. Snow stung his face. He forced the door against the wind and the latch clanged shut. He clung to the chimney post. But night was in the room, a sheet of darkness, flapping from wall to wall.

It mentions early on that Treacle Walker is a psychopomp, so the absence of Joe's parents from the story isn't as odd as it would otherwise be. The non-linear story takes concentration to follow, but it repays it in spades if you are interested in folklore and mythology. ( )
  isabelx | Jan 3, 2024 |
Perhaps I read with the wrong pair of glasses. ( )
  adrianburke | Sep 7, 2023 |
Shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize

Treacle Walker is the first Alan Garner book I have ever picked up. Needless to say, the book being on the Booker shortlist prompted me to give it a try.

The story revolves around a young boy Joseph “Joe” Coppock, who has been unwell and wears a patch on one eye for rectification of his lazy eye. One day he meets a rag-and-bone man by the name of Treacle Walker who also claims to be a healer of all ills save for jealousy. Joe acquires a “donkey stone” and an old chipped pot of ointment called “Poor Man’s Friend” in exchange for an old pair of his pyjamas and a lamb’s shoulder blade. These two mystical objects and his acquaintance with Treacle Walker are just the beginning of a series of fantastical adventures for Joe- from meeting Thin Amren, a bog-man who tells him that his trouble with his eyes is “glamourie” wherein each of his eyes shows him different worlds- one that everyone can see and the other that is not visible to others to characters who jump out of the pages of his favorite comic book, a mirror dimension and much more.

To be honest, I read and re-read portions of the narrative as my initial reading left me a bit baffled. I feel I was unable to comprehend what the story was about in its totality. The concept of time – movement, fluidity and the perception of the present as opposed to what is not obvious- is an overarching theme in this story. I enjoyed the cast of interesting characters, fantastical elements and the dream-like setting of the story but I did face some difficulty in following the native dialect. I understand that some of the words may be rooted in folklore or myth or the author’s imagination but a Glossary would have been helpful. I believe those who have read the author’s previous works would appreciate this novel more than I have. ( )
  srms.reads | Sep 4, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Alan Garner’s novels are usually separated into his wildly successful books aimed at children – The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Elidor, The Owl Service and The Moon of Gomrath – and his adult writing – The Stone Book Quartet, Thursbitch and Strandloper, which are more difficult and quixotic, at least thematically (Garner is always an author of supremely clear and readable prose). I was speaking at an event with Ruth Ozeki and Karen Joy Fowler recently and, having mentioned Garner in my talk, was surprised that neither of them had read – or even heard of – him. They asked me where to begin and I suggested the wonderful, time-collapsing Red Shift, largely because I feel like it contains the best of each of Garner’s worlds: the magic of his children’s fiction and the emotional and philosophical complexity of his adult work.

Garner’s latest novel, Treacle Walker, also belongs in this hybrid space. It, too, is concerned with time. Indeed, it seems as though the subject of time is the theme that underpins much of his later work – how we experience it, how we might refigure or alter our relation to it. “Time is ignorance,” reads the book’s epigraph, from Carlo Rovelli, and the novel is essentially a response to this idea, seeking to ask how we would experience the world if we were able to step out of the straitjacket of time. Garner lives in a medieval medicine house on a site that has been inhabited for 10,000 years and is a stone’s throw from the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire. It should perhaps not surprise us that, again, he takes time as his subject.

Joe, our hero, is a child living a strange and circumscribed existence. He has been poorly, he says, and wears a patch to correct a lazy eye. His parents are not in evidence, and he measures out the days by watching the passing of Noony, the train, through the valley below. One day a rag-and-bone man appears, named Treacle Walker, and offers Joe a cup and a stone in exchange for an old pair of pyjamas and a lamb’s shoulder bone. The cup has Joe’s name written upon it, the stone is inscribed with the picture of a horse. This is classic Garner territory: obscure but resonant objects, a present that feels wedded to a mythical past, a questioning child seeking to unravel the mysteries of an off-kilter world, a landscape freighted with meaning.

Joe wanders out into the marshy wood behind his house where he meets Thin Amren, a naked man with copper-brown skin and a hood made of leather. This bog-man informs Joe that his lazy eye is the result of “the glamourie” – a gift that enables him to see time collapsed, to perceive the eternal in the now. Joe’s adventures see him drawn into the mirror-world of a comic book, fighting alongside “Kit the Ancient Brit” against “Whizzy Wizard and the Brit Bashers”. He’s aided in these battles by the visits of the genial Treacle Walker, with his “green violet” eyes and face at once old and young, like “them knacky postcards that change when you look”.

The riotous energy of seemingly throwaway comics is shown to be in communion with the power of myth and both express truths found in the most cutting-edge science. This is a book about quantum physics as well as ancient lore. Garner has always suggested that there is essentially just one story, and this novel, published in his 87th year, contains all the exuberance and eccentricity, all the deep thought and resounding mythology of his best work. At the end of his life, Philip Roth wrote the extraordinary Nemesis, a book that felt like a conversation between the author and his younger self, an attempt to express in a single novel the concerns of a lifetime. Treacle Walker does something similar, cramming into its 150-odd pages more ideas and imagination than most authors manage in their whole careers.
added by kleh | editThe Observer, Alex Preston (Nov 1, 2021)
No writer’s body of work is more densely connected yet sparely wrought than Alan Garner’s – connected not just to himself and the land, through stories of a long-rooted Cheshire family who “knew their place”, but to myth and folklore, flowing through the children’s fantasies that made his name. In the 1970s, Red Shift and The Stone Book Quartet were boundary markers between his children’s and adult books (though Garner wouldn’t recognise a distinction). Over the following decades he honed his clipped, enigmatic style, and, with the exception of Strandloper, a foray into Indigenous Australian dreamtime, stayed in the environs of his beloved Alderley Edge, digging and deepening. In 2012, half a century after the first two volumes, Boneland was an unexpected conclusion to his Weirdstone trilogy; the source material transfigured into an adult novel about loss, pain, knowledge and madness that reached not only across the chasm of a human lifetime, but back millennia into the stone age. Garner is now 87; in 2018, a fragmentary memoir, Where Shall We Run to?, conjured his early years with an extraordinary immediacy, as though stepping again into the river of childhood.

Few people expected another novel – and yet, like all his books, Treacle Walker feels as inevitable as it does surprising. Garner’s work has always been hard to classify, here more than ever: this tiny fable, hewn from elements of children’s story, myth, alchemical texts, old rhymes and cartoons, has an implacable directness, as though still channelling the childlike viewpoint of his memoir.

Joe Coppock, a convalescent boy, is alone in the house when Treacle Walker comes calling. We have heard his cry before, in Where Shall We Run to?, when the rag and bone man passes by: “Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags? Pots for rags! Donkey stone!” Garner heard it from his childhood sickroom, after the illnesses that nearly killed him. But now the donkey stone – a scouring block used to shine the front steps – becomes a talismanic object in a fairytale exchange, along with an empty medicine pot, which helps Joe to realise his visionary potential.

Though Joe at first considers him “daft as a brush”, and smelly to boot, Treacle Walker – who comes to the threshold again and again, in fairytale fashion, waiting to be invited in – is a mythic figure, whose wanderings help to keep the world turning. (As ever with Garner, the mythic and universal are birthed from the specific and local: a friend of his, writing in the 2016 festschrift First Light, remembers their discussion of one Walker Treacle, “the healer tramp from Holywell Green, who could cure anything but jealousy”.) And Joe’s lazy eye, for which he must wear a patch, is a signifier of “the glamourie”. When his good eye is uncovered, he can see past surface reality and speak to the mummified iron age man Thin Amren, who sits up out of the bog near Joe’s house telling him to: “Move the dish clout and shut your glims.”

The danger in this book comes from the comic that taught Garner to read, his childhood favourite Stonehenge Kit the Ancient Brit, “who was always fighting Whizzy the Wicked Wizard and his chums the Brit Bashers”. It’s a risky strategy, but Garner summons an ominous power from the jaunty font that the characters’ easy-reading threats are rendered in – “BIFF HIM FOR THAT BRICK AND POT HE’S GOT” – as they burst right out of the page. If Boneland was an adult reckoning with the material behind The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, Treacle Walker reads like a feverish companion to Elidor: a visionary boy, a spare, dreamlike landscape, forces of darkness banging against the porch, the half-heard sound of distant music. In that novel, fairytale treasures become a broken teacup or a bit of iron railing. The totems of Garner’s later work are usually geologically enduring: flint or stone. Here they are child-sized and humbly human – a marble, a tiny Victorian pot – but no less powerful for that.

Alan Garner.
Alan Garner. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/Shutterstock
Along with these artefacts, Garner also excavates the argot of a 1940s Cheshire boyhood. It’s a plain language, but scattered with idiom and slang; Joe’s optician says “shufti” and “ticketyboo”, “wonky” and “squiffy”. Thin Amren is brusquely colloquial: “I’d not trust that one’s arse with a fart.” Treacle Walker, meanwhile, speaks in riddles peppered with nonsense, delighting in codes and puzzles and the mouthfeel of each vanished word: scapulimancer, whirligig, hurlothrumbo. His airy rhetoric is often punctured by matter-of-fact Joe; the chimney, Treacle declares, is a liminal space – the way between “the Earth, the heavens and the sapient stars”. “It’s to let smoke out,” says Joe.

As a child confined to bed, finding a world in the ceiling above him, Garner “played with time as if it were chewing gum … I had to”. All his work is fascinated by the inner time of dream and vision, as well as deep geological time and the eternal present of myth, but Boneland explored scientific reasoning behind “the impossibility of now”. In Treacle Walker, discussions of subatomic particles give way to koans. The epigraph is taken from theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli: “Time is ignorance.” Rovelli believes that it’s a mistake to pursue our sense of time in physics alone – that it’s linked to human brain structure. Or as Garner has it here: “What’s out is in. What’s in is out.”

Treacle Walker is a circular narrative, made of smaller interlocking circles, with actions and whole paragraphs repeating: in its end is its beginning. This late fiction also works the seam opened up in Garner’s very first novel, inspired by the story handed down to his grandfather about enchanted sleepers under Alderley Edge. Garner has always been explicit about the moment of rupture that kickstarted his imagination: alienation by academic opportunity from his family’s deep oral culture. Loss and abandonment permeate his writing, from the horn Colin hears at the end of The Moon of Gomrath, “so beautiful that he never found rest again”, to the snatch of train station graffiti that inspired Red Shift: “not really now not anymore”. In Treacle Walker, Joe wakes from a dream of music under the hill to be left with “Nothing. No one. Only loss.” Yet this playful, moving and wholly remarkable work is also about being found, as Treacle Walker finds Joe – and as Joe finds his difficult destiny. There’s a life’s work inside this little book.
added by kleh | editThe Guardian, Justine Jordan (Oct 30, 2021)
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Il tempo è ignoranza

Time is ignorance

Carlo Rovelli, L'ordine del tempo
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'Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!'
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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'Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!' Joe looked up from his comic and lifted his eye patch. There was a white pony in the yard. It was harnessed to a cart, a flat cart, with a wooden chest on it. A man was sitting at a front corner of the cart, holding the reins. His face was creased. He wore a long coat and a floppy high-crowned hat, with hair straggling beneath, and a leather bag was slung from his shoulder across his hip. 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 Cheshire 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.

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