A fusion of myth and folklore and an exploration of the fluidity time, vivid storytelling that illuminates an introspective young mind trying to make sense of everything around him.
‘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.
Treacle Walker may be the strangest book I have ever read. I solely picked up this novella because it was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. I did not have any expectations as I picked it up and struggle to describe it now that I have finished.
Treacle Walker is the story of Joe, a boy with poor vision who lives alone. His inner world is built out of a comic book and the sound of the noon train. Then one day a rag-and-bone man called Treacle Walker knocks at his door and changes everything.
Treacle Walker is written in Old English and what seemed to be playful, nonsense words. It is possible that these words are from some English dialects, of which I am unfamiliar. Either way, I think the average reader (particularly American or Canadian) will struggle with fully comprehending the prose. Still, Garner tells this story in a whimsical and poetic manner that I could appreciate.
At its heart, Treacle Walker is an imaginative and bizarre story. However, it is not one that is particularly accessible. This novella relies heavily on context that I, as well as most non-Brits, lack. Specifically, British and Irish folklore and references are crucial elements of the tale. For readers unfamiliar with these cultural references, I think much will be lost. However, if you enjoy a whimsical fantasy world and being completely lost (dissecting a book with the internet as your guide), this may be the book for you.
In the end, Treacle Walker is an intriguing ponderance of time and its presumed linearity as well as a story about the absurdity of life. I wish I fully understood all of the tidbits Garner imbedded in this story so I could fully appreciate it. But as an American reader, I was left to enjoy the prose and the story at face value. While I did find Treacle Walker to be pleasant and intriguing, I would not recommend it to the average reader.
Literary Fiction & Fantasy
November 29, 2022
2022 Booker Prize Finalist