Time, Vision, Reality: Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker

Alan Garner’s books are understood not intellectually, but in gut and bone and perhaps in a long collective memory. Deeply seeded in and emerging from a specific landscape, Treacle Walker tells us a tale of a boy with a lazy eye who one day meets a rag-and-bone man offering a trade: for rags and bones he gives a pot and a stone. The boy invites the man into his strangely adult-less house, where time is measured by the whistle and clack of the train that passes by at noon every day. And from there the boy–and the reader–learn that time and place may be fluid; that the past and the present may intertwine; that vision and sight are not the same thing; that objects are more than they seem and dreaming and being are inseparable.

Treacle Walker is a brief book, without a superfluous word. Language matters, has power; words can invite something in or keep something out, summon or banish. As brief and spare as Treacle Walker is, it is not simple. Its imagery is that of reflection: of the real and the virtual (as defined in the science of optics) and the place at which they diverge – or converge. The mirror, the train that divides the day in two; the boy’s two eyes that each see different worlds, if he frees one from its obscuring patch.

There are echoes of the surreality of Alice through The Looking Glass; there are echoes of earth magic and childhood games passed down for generations; there are echoes of others of Garner’s books. There is no definitive way to put Treacle Walker neatly into a genre, or even to say what it’s about, except that it is something both rich and strange.

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