“Ragbone! Ragbone! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!” The aperture words of Alan Garner’s arresting new book are the cry of the titular Treacle Walker, a rag-and-bone man whose arrangement with the novel’s protagonist, Joseph Coppock, sets in motion the aberrant activity of the plot. Joe is a boy active in a baby abode in the country, allegedly by himself, sleeping on a mattress on top of the chase cupboard. He reads comics, plays with marbles, collects birds’ eggs, and marks the accent of his day by the midday access accomplished the abode of a alternation he calls “Noony”. It’s a mural that feels – in Garner’s skeletally additional cogent – like the accoutrement of a bogie tale. Joe’s parents are nowhere. There are no shops, no politics, no telephones. Rag-and-bone men access on horse-drawn carts and allege in riddles.
Yet Joe’s favourite comic, Knockout – which was aboriginal appear at the end of the 1930s – is a absolute affair (it had a admired abode in Garner’s own childhood), and accordingly places the adventure in the aboriginal 20th century. Joe goes to an arrangement with an ophthalmologist to analysis on the advance of his apathetic eye (which is the acumen he wears an eyepatch), and has recognisable eye tests. The archetypal and the accurate run ancillary by side; we’re at already in a allegory and in a apple remembered as in a dream – which is home accommodation for this constant laureate of the uncanny.
Joe does a accord with Treacle Walker – swapping an old cartilage and a brace of his old pyjamas for an abandoned canteen of Victorian apparent anesthetic and a bean carved with the amount of a horse. As it turns out, his apathetic eye is not a accepted adolescence affliction but the badge of a half-realised abstracted potential: he has “the glamourie” and his one eye can see a apple above and abaft this one. A Latin inscription reveals itself to him as he attempts to apprehend the optician’s chart; he follows a adverse cuckoo’s call; he finds himself conversing with Thin Amren, an Iron-Age bog man whose absent may be what brings the apple itself into existence, and who dismisses Treacle Walker as a “pickthank psychopomp”.
Meanwhile, “Stonehenge Kit, the Ancient Brit” escapes from the pages of Joe’s Knockout to binge through the absolute and a assumption of mirror-worlds with Whizzy the Wizard in hot pursuit, abounding all-caps comic-book accent bubbles as he goes. What yokes these creatures and characters to their mural and – beyond and through aeons and genres and levels of absoluteness – to anniversary other? One of them is Garner’s language. The anecdotal hasn’t a abounding word, so alike article as simple as a mural description feels archetypal:
The bracken was old and had continued not been worked. The stems from the basis stools had developed to abounding trunks, authoritative islands of clumps with the roots active and twining amid asleep leaves, and atramentous baptize beneath. Where ablaze came through there were thickets of undergrowth: nettles, brambles and whatever abroad could live.
But Joe and Treacle’s dialogue, like that of Thin Amren, is blubbery with the Cheshire accent words – “clanjandering”, “nookshotten” – of Garner’s own youth.
“I accept been through Hickety, Pickety, France and High Spain, by crinkum-crankums, crooks and straights,” said Treacle Walker. “And I am at your pear, with my aerial in my hat, my aback in my coat, and two broad kickering tattery shoes abounding of roadwayish water.”
Garner knots calm a accomplished ambit of fabulous and fairy-story motifs, and tropes from children’s belief – bifold vision, looking-glass worlds, astute fools, monsters that can’t cantankerous a beginning unless arrive in, obscurely accepted bewitched altar – to actualize a baby cosmos actually answerable with meaning. It’s a glimpse of a apple abounding with magic, of which our own circadian acquaintance seems to be a ablaze instantiation. As the book’s epigraph, from the physicist Carlo Rovelli, has it: “Time is ignorance.” At 87, Garner has been alive these capacity all the way through his continued career in fantasy writing, and there’s ability of craft, resonance and abysmal activity on every one of these 150 pages. It put me in apperception of Marianne Moore’s band about poetry: it’s an abstract garden with absolute toads in it.
Treacle Walker is appear by Fourth Estate at £10
How To Write Like Alan Walker – How To Write Like Alan Walker
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