“Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags.”
THERE is a fair amount of subtext here, which you might, or might not, need. A little Latin may help. Alan Garner’s first work was published in 1963. He has been admired and influential since then for his children’s myth, and fantasy overlaid with a thick layer of Cheshire folk tales, some of which pop up here. His previous book Boneland published in 2013 had a 13 year old boy with amnesia, and we have not strayed too far by the time we meet Joe.
This is a poem rather than a novel, one you could share happily with a child at bedtime. Joe’s comic book world is coming to life. This is not a world into which anyone else can stray, mind you – no girls, no adults, no dinner, no phones, no pets. We are in the present tense, and that in a sense is the point, or one of many points that readers of other Garner books may conject. Some of the linguistics are great fun, some with antecedents some probably without, applications for next years OED. Amblyonic, is Joe’s condition. Flustication has previous and so apparently does hurlolumberjobs. YIKES!
Part of the achievement here is to write this unbelievable story in a way that is believable. It is beautifully produced in big type with a fine etching on the front and a great title, Treacle Walker, who is Joe’s avatar.
That it is long listed for the Booker prize this year is perhaps in part the literati wanting to honour Garner, but it is very welcome to see such work on the list at all. Introducing writers like Garner to a new audience is what such prizes should be about.