Skip to main content

Review: Treacle Walker - Alan Garner *****

Alan Garner is, without doubt, one of the UK's greatest fantasy writers. I was privileged to grow up with his books, which aged in audience as I did, peaking for me with The Owl Service. Garner also visited my (and his) school, which the book is dedicated to, when I was 12, a really important moment in my young life. But I lost some enthusiasm with his adult titles, which were both difficult to follow and depressing. However, now well into his 80s, Garner has produced what is arguably his best yet.

Although Treacle Walker is a very compact book in large print, it is so intensely written that it still has considerable heft - I've seen it described by someone as poetry, and although I wouldn't personally say that, like the best poetry it does pack a huge amount into relatively few words. The book's protagonist is a young boy, but this is not a children's book. The closest parallel I have is Ray Bradbury's wonderful Something Wicked This Way Comes - the book captures much of the essence of childhood, but does so in a way that appeals to the nostalgic side of an adult who can see far more in it than a young reader.

Like all Garner's work a sense of place and time is hugely important. As someone brought up in Lancashire, the use of language from Garner's Cheshire youth evokes many memories, though you don't have to have that background to appreciate it. Just the references to donkey stones and rag and bone men, for example, bring so much back. There is even a reference to the old Pace Egg plays performed by mummers in the North West, when a character of Garner's says 'I have been through Hickety, Pickety, France and High Spain' - compare this with the doctor's claim in the traditional Pace Egg play to have travelled 'Through Italy, Sickly, High Germany, France and Spain'.

At one level, the book is a folk fantasy, and of course Garner does this brilliantly well. He has always combined local material with wider ranging concepts (for example the use of Ragnarok in his first novel), but never more so than here, where one of the elements, also featuring on the cover, is the white horse at Uffington, a powerful image, coincidentally situated near where I now live. But there is also more going on, particularly in the ending, suggesting a totally different take on what has occurred with a distinctly darker undercurrent.

Overall, this is a masterpiece, a book I will re-read many times. If it is a swan song, then like the legendary original it is something of intense beauty. Remarkable. 

Treacle Walker is available from and

Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you

See all of Brian's online articles or subscribe to them for free here.


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Best writing advice

I saw on Twitter the other day (via someone I know answering it), the question 'What's the best writing advice you would give to someone who wants to become a writer?' My knee-jerk response was 'Don't do it, because you aren't one.' What I mean by this is that - at least in my personal experience - you don't become a writer. Either you are one, or you aren't. There's plenty of advice to be had on how to become a better writer, or how to become a published writer... but certainly my case I always was one - certainly as soon as I started reading books.  While I was at school, I made comics. I wrote stories.  My first novel was written in my teens (thankfully now lost). I had a first career that wasn't about being a writer, but I still wrote in my spare time, sending articles off to magazines and writing a handful of novels. And eventually writing took over entirely. If you are a writer, you can't help yourself. You just do it. I'm writ