‘Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person awake in the whole country. People might find that a lonely thought. Not me’
It’s Christmas Eve and snow is falling ‘thick as vicar’s dandruff.’ The Gritterman is about to set off in his battered ice cream van, chimes blaring Mr Softee’s Jingle as he spreads salt ‘mined from the ancient sea-beds of Cheshire.’
But this is to be the Gritterman’s final outing. He’s had a letter from the council informing him that his services are no longer required. Something to do with global warming.
He still has his summer job, pulling ice cream. But this is just what he does when he’s waiting for the cold weather to return. Gritting is his life, literally.
‘I’m not sure I want to live in a world where the B2116 doesn’t need gritting.’
The Gritterman is full of painfully poignant writing, and beautifully delicate artwork to match. Many reviewers have picked up on the influence of Raymond Briggs – The Snowman being the obvious reference point, with its depiction of stillness and quiet that comes over the land when it’s covered in snow.
Thematically too there are connections to Briggs’ depiction of the lives of men working in tough conditions. As the story progresses the ice cream van takes on a magical, mythical quality rather like Father Christmas’s sledge as it battles on alone through ‘tiny white flakes so bright they could be stars.’
If there’s one Briggs character who might have served as an inspiration, it’s Ernie the milkman from Sledges for Ernest (a fictionalised version of Briggs’ own father). In one scene we even see the Gritterman mirror Ernie’s look of despair as he sits on the edge of his milk cart.
But this isn’t simply pastiche, Weeks is a distinctive new voice, with a fine ear for the nuances and quirks of his character that reminded me of Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads monologues.
‘You might think you see less working nights, but I disagree. Out here I swear I see great white bears disappearing down cul-de-sacs and narwhals trailing each other up and down the ditches. I‘ve seen angels in cherry trees and fallen stars on motorway roundabouts.’
There is both deep sadness and uplifting magic in this lyrical book that will be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates standing outside, alone on a cold snowy night, listening to the absolute silence that winter brings.
The Gritterman is published by Particular Books