While I was reading Treacle Walker, I felt like I was drifting back to my childhood years. Growing up in Canada, which is part of the Commonwealth, we were exposed to British TV like Noddy and Dr. Who and the old Mr. Men cartoons. I also felt elements of my early teen years in Malta when I played with marbles and was obsessed with The Beano.
Treacle Walker does have a nostalgic feel to it but it’s much much more than that. It’s a short tale of many depths and can be interpreted in many ways. So here’s my take.
The first clue that I got was in the epigraph, which is the quote ‘Time is ignorance by Carlo Rovelli, which could mean that Treacle Walker is a metaphysical novel or it could be one about age – or both.
The book begins with a manboy with a lazy eye, Joe who meets rag and bone man, Treacle Walker. Through the gifts they exchange: Joe exchanges his pyjamas and lamb shoulder blade for a donkey stone with alchemical powers and an ointment which helps him ‘see’ through the tangible world his bad eye. Thus at this point Treacle Walker could be seen as a philosopher helping Joe ‘know thyself’ as Socrates preached, this also is the slogan one would find at the Oracle of Delphi. We now know that Joe will be able to look through to other worlds. This is further accentuated by the constant sound of cuckoos in the background, as these were able to travel inbetween dimensions, at least in Celtic mythology.
In the meantime, while striking up his friendship, Joe reads his comic books and plays with marbles. Could this mean that Joe is revisiting his youth? and that in the story he is an old man who needs an escape? Time is ignorance and here he’s seems to be absorbed by his youthful pleasures.
In the process Joe also manages to read Latin and has conversations with a man who lives in his bog – which I think represents Joe’s mortality, hence why I think he is an old man in the novel.
The crux comes when Joe enters an actual alternative reality via a looking glass, there he sees a doppleganger, which could be an alter ego or simply an effect of living in the mirror-verse and he manages to understand his reason for living, which is what Treacle Walker has been trying to do throughout the book.
At least that’s how I saw it on this first reading.
Treacle Walker is a puzzle of a book. Each chapter unlocks something, be it an element of folklore or something from the past (I do believe that when we’re young time is at it’s most naïve). It is told simply but could also frustrate the reader in the use of British slang or allusions to medieval British culture. Nothing is clear cut but that gravitated me towards the novel. Probably the most divisive book on the list but, for me, the most rewarding.