NOTo The writer’s work is more intertwined but less elaborate than that of Alan Garner – linked not only to himself and to the land, through the stories of a long-rooted Cheshire family who “Knew its place”, but in myth and folklore, circulating through the fantasies of children who made its name. In the 1970s, Red Shift and The Stone Book Quartet marked the line between his books for children and adults (although Garner did not recognize a distinction). Over the following decades, he perfected his enigmatic, coupe-like style and, with the exception of Strandloper, a foray into the time of native Australian dreams, remained in the vicinity 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 the abyss of human life, but millennia into the Stone Age as well. Garner is now 87 years old; in 2018, a fragmentary memoir, Where Shall We Run to?, evokes his early years with extraordinary immediacy, as if he were plunging back into the river of childhood.
Few people expected another novel – and yet, like all of his books, Treacle Walker feels as inevitable as it is surprising. Garner’s work has always been difficult to classify, here more than ever: this little fable, cut from elements of children’s stories, myths, alchemical texts, old nursery rhymes and cartoons, has a frankness relentless, as if she was still channeling the childish point of view of her memories. .
Joe Coppock, a recovering boy, is alone in the house when Treacle Walker comes to call him. We’ve heard her cry before, in Where Shall We Run to ?, when the man of rag and bone walks by: “Ragbone! Ragbone! Rags? Ragpots! Donkey stone! Garner heard it from his childhood sickroom, after illnesses that nearly killed him. But now the Donkey Stone – a scouring block used to make the steps shine – becomes a talismanic object in a fairytale exchange, along with an empty medicine jar, which helps Joe realize his visionary potential.
Although Joe initially sees him as “silly as a paintbrush” and smelly on top of that, Treacle Walker – who comes back to the doorstep again and again, fairytale-like, waiting to be invited – is a figure. mythical, whose wanderings help keep the world spinning. (As always with Garner, the mythical and the universal are born out of the specific and the local: a friend of his, writing in the First Light 2016 festschrift, remembers their discussion of a Walker Treacle, “The Healing Tramp of Holywell Green , which could cure anything but jealousy. ”) And Joe’s lazy eye, which he has to wear a patch for, is a signifier of“ glamor ”. When his good eye is discovered, he can see the reality of the surface beyond and speak to the mummified Iron Age man, Thin Amren, who sits outside the bog near Joe’s house. saying of, “Shift the weight of the dishes and close your lights.”
The danger in this book comes from the comic book which taught Garner, his childhood favorite Stonehenge Kit the Ancient Brit, “who was still fighting Whizzy the Wicked Wizard and his pals the Brit Bashers” to read. It’s a risky strategy, but Garner summons a threatening power from the offhand police in which the characters’ easy-to-read threats are rendered – “BIFF HIM FOR THAT BRICK AND POT IT’S GOT” – as they shoot off the page. . If Boneland was a reckless adult 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 dreamy landscape, forces of darkness striking against the porch, the half-heard the sound of distant music. In this novel, the fairy tale treasures become a broken teacup or a piece of iron railing. The totems of Garner’s later work are generally geologically durable: flint or stone. Here they are child-sized and humbly human – a marble, a small Victorian jar – but no less powerful for that.
In addition to these artifacts, Garner also unearths slang from a childhood in 1940s Cheshire. It is a simple language, but peppered with idioms and slang; Joe’s optician says “shufti” and “ticketyboo”, “wonky” and “squiffy”. Thin Amren is abruptly familiar: “I wouldn’t trust his ass with a fart.” Treacle Walker, meanwhile, speaks in riddles strewn with nonsense, reveling in codes and riddles and the mouth feel of every missing word: scapulimancer, whirligig, hurlothrumbo. His aerial rhetoric is often punctuated by pragmatic Joe; the fireplace, says Molasses, is liminal space – the path between “the Earth, the heavens and the intelligent stars.” “It’s to let the smoke out,” Joe said.
A child confined to bed, finding a world in the ceiling above him, Garner “played with time like it was a piece of chewing gum… I had to do it.” All of his work is fascinated by the inner time of dreaming and seeing, as well as the deep geological time and the eternal present of myth, but Boneland explored the scientific reasoning behind “the impossibility of the now.” In Treacle Walker, discussions of subatomic particles give way to koans. The epigraph is taken from the theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli: “Time is ignorance. Rovelli believes that it is a mistake to pursue our sense of time solely in physics – that it is related to the structure of the human brain. Or as Garner said here, “What’s outside is in. What’s in is outside.”
Treacle Walker is a circular narrative, made of small, nested circles, with actions and whole paragraphs repeated: at its end is its beginning. This late fiction also works open seam in Garner’s very first novel, inspired by the story passed down to his grandfather about the Enchanted Sleepers under Alderley Edge. Garner has always been explicit about the moment of rupture that sparked his imagination: alienation through an academic opportunity from his family’s deep oral culture. Loss and abandonment permeate his writing, from the horn that Colin hears at the end of The Moon of Gomrath, “so beautiful that he has never found rest again”, to the graffiti torn from the train station which inspired Red Shift: “not really now, not anymore. ”. In Treacle Walker, Joe wakes up from a dream of music under the hill to find himself with “Nothing.” Anybody. Only loss. Yet this playful, moving and utterly remarkable work is also about being found, as Treacle Walker finds Joe – and as Joe finds his destiny difficult. There is a lifetime’s work in this little book.