Alan Garner’s oddball fable, shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize (the winner is announced on Monday), opens with the eponymous rag-and-bone man parking his horse and cart at the door of Joe Coppock, a boy who seems to live alone and wears an eyepatch to correct a lazy eye. Treacle Walker talks in riddles and has a face that is both old and young – “like them knacky postcards that change when you look,” notes Joe. Walker strikes a deal with the boy, giving him a jar containing the remains of some ointment and a scouring block in exchange for a piece of bone and some threadbare pyjamas. After Joe accidentally rubs the ointment into his eye, time starts to bend out of shape, a comic strip comes to life and a figure emerges from the depths of a nearby bog who calls himself Thin Amren.
The actor Robert Powell is the narrator, capturing Walker’s twinkly eccentricity and Joe’s youthful bewilderment and exasperation – “You’re daft,” he says to Walker more than once. It’s with clear delight that Powell navigates the dialogue, which weaves in the archaic dialect of Garner’s beloved Cheshire and includes words such as “flustication”, “clanjandering” and “lomperhomock”.
Treacle Walker is told through the eyes of a child and comes with fairytale motifs of hidden worlds, sage-like fools and figures unable to enter homes without an invitation, though this isn’t a story aimed at children. At once charming and strange, Garner’s book is about the fluid nature of time and the mysteries that lurk where the eye can’t see.
• Treacle Walker is available from 4th Estate, 1hr 48min
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