At all times wonderfully evocative and poignant, Cider With Rosie is a charming memoir of Laurie Lee's childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a world that is tangibly real and yet reminiscent of a now distant past.
In this idyllic pastoral setting, unencumbered by the callous father who so quickly abandoned his family responsibilities, Laurie's adoring mother becomes the centre of his world as she struggles to raise a growing family against the backdrop of the Great War.
The sophisticated adult author's retrospective commentary on events is endearingly juxtaposed with that of the innocent, spotty youth, permanently prone to tears and self-absorption.
Rosie's identity from the novel Cider with Rosie was kept secret for 25 years. She was Rose Buckland, Lee's cousin by marriage.
Laurence Edward Alan "Laurie" Lee, MBE, was an English poet, novelist, and screenwriter. His most famous work was an autobiographical trilogy which consisted of Cider with Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) and A Moment of War (1991). While the first volume famously recounts his childhood in the idyllic Slad Valley, the second deals with his leaving home for London and his first visit to Spain in 1934, and the third with his return in December 1937 to join the Republican International Brigade.
There was a reassuring prevalence of Penguin books, resplendent in orange cummerbunds, as I rummaged through a squished cardboard box in my attic. Then, delightfully, I spied a book that triggered a wave of nostalgia: "Cider With Bloody Rosie," I gasped (um, mine wasn't a version with 'bloody' in the title, just so you know). "Well, I never! Cider With Bloody Rosie." (You see, I repeated the word 'bloody' yet again, such was my cock-a-hoopedness).
Gosh! I had previously read this a gazillion years ago, at a time when even Tarzan didn't seem at all far-fetched.
A quick shufty through its sepia-hued pages reminded me what a terrific writer Lee was, with indelible characters such as Cabbage Stump Charlie and Harelip Harry. For me, his sumptuous imagery and poetic prose (and the fact that this was an autobiographical memoir, which reads like fiction) drew a comparison with Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. - though herein lies a Steinbeck-esque darkness.
The story harks back to the rural hardship of an English village shortly after the Great War, long before such villages were served by gastropubs, delicatessens, or even motor cars. (Were it written today, I venture it might be titled Drinking Cider With Rosie Behind Tesco Express).
Rediscovering Laurie Lee's beautiful wordplay made me initially think that his prose was wasted on a boy who could clearly imagine a clean-shaven Tarzan swinging from vines through the jungle. But perhaps my evidential nostalgia confirmed otherwise.
I asked my boyfriend if he had ever been physically aroused by a work of fiction while reading on a bus or train.
"Oh, many a time," he said.
"Really? Did you get an erection?"
"Yes, of course. Isn't that what you meant? It doesn't happen so much now," he said.
"Because you are cynical and you've seen it all before?"
"Partly that," he concurred. "But also because my blood is more sluggish and I have lost the vigour of youth."
"When was the last time you got an erection while reading in a public place?" I asked eagerly.
"When reading your last email to me," he said without hesitation. He's a pretty quick-witted guy, actually. That's why he's my boyfriend. :)
"What about the first time?" I asked. "How old were you?"
"Oh, I didn't need books when I was in the first flush of puberty," he said. "I used to get an erection on the bus just looking at all the pretty schoolgirls going up and down the stairs."
"You're a pervert," I said.
"But the first book that made me miss my stop because I was unable to leave my seat due to the large bulge in my trousers was Cider With Rosie."
"By Laurie Lee?"
"Indeed. That old English classic. It's a rural idyll. And you can't have a rural idyll without a romp in the hay so why they give it to pubescent boys as a set text at school I'll never know. It's like putting a stick of dynamite down their pants."
"Well, you know what I mean. I looked like I had a stick of dynamite down my pants when I got off that bus anyway. And then we had to write our own memoir in a similar vein. The teacher even gave us the title. The First Bite Of The Cherry. And you call me a pervert."
"That's a public school English education for you," I said.
"Exactly," he said. "It's astonishing I turned out normal."
"If you were normal you wouldn't be able to satisfy me," I said.
When you are transported directly into the childhood of the writer, you know this is a good biography. When you smell the very air, when you feel that what the characters are smiling about is a scene of intense everyday hilarity, and when you want to visit THERE* (for just a second, just for the sake of both reader and writer, just for the sake of experience), well, then you know you are dealing with a superlative type of novel, which weaves truth with literature at an almost mythical level.
Ah...the good old days as a little nipper - rolling around in hay, tickling girls and getting kicked in the shins, licking jam off a spoon and declaring war on a swarm of wasps, trying to catch tiny fish in the local stream with a hair net, and getting tipsy on my father's homebrewed ale before getting a right good rollicking. Reading Cider with Rosie bought back so many memories of my own childhood, I almost forgot about Laurie Lee's. Filled with elaborate metaphors that conjure up wonderful images of life in the English Gloucestershire countryside post WW1, Lee uses a poetical descriptive prose in describing his early life just as huge change and upheaval took place in society. He offers us his intimate sharing of the people, events, and places that helped shape his days.
Evoking nostalgia plays heavy throughout, that was easy for me to relate to as his home village wasn't a million miles away from where I grew up, and I felt a connection with the areas he describes. There were some nods to the writing of Welshman Dylan Thomas, and although the memoir was pleasant, with some poignant moments, I just found Lee's basis a little too sweet and sickly for my liking, like being covered in honey and having a big soppy Labrador lick it off. For some reason I read this after "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning", which is the follow up to this. For me, that was a far superior read, looking at time he spent crossing Spain one year with little in the way of possessions.
Cider With Rosie, considering he wrote this in his fifties, clearly shows he had a good mind, as at times you feel it's Laurie the child doing the writing, the youth and enlightenment to life's sharp realities brings a mixture of emotions, and truly showcases a by-gone era that captured the heart and soul of growing up in this specific period in time. A decent read (but he has written better), that was let down by the most pointless introduction, featuring too many quotes from the yet read book, and the print wasn't great either. Looked like a photocopy of a photocopy.
This is not merely a biography or description of a special time and place (the Cotswolds the years after the First World War), it is prose poetry. It is the lyrical fashion in which it is written that is its outstanding element. The story unfolds not chronologically but rather by theme. There is a chapter on summer and winter. A chapter on festivals. A chapter on school. A chapter on sexual awakening. A chapter entitled "The Kitchen" which is the center of a home, and here we hear of his family, his mother and father and half-sisters, half-brothers and brothers. His father departed at the age of three. His mother waited for years and years and years for his father's return. She waited and waited, raising the kids from both his marriages, until his father's death made clear he was never to return. Laurie Lee's mother and his half-sisters shaped what was to be “his home". The essence of "home" is not just described but felt. His mother's essence is not just described but felt too. You leave the memoir knowing well not just Laurie Lee but his mother and his sisters too. You leave the memoir feeling the passage of the old Cotswolds into the new. Horses replaced by cars, songs and tales by candlelight in the evening to the wireless. Life in the village to life out there in the beyond. The girls married and gone. The absence of pigs. Laurie Lee draws contrasts vividly - then and now, summer and winter, quiet and bustle, presence and absence.
Laurie Lee narrates this, his own book. His voice quavers, but it is full of emotion. I went from disliking it in the beginning to thinking it was perfect by the book's end. In the middle I disassociated myself from what I was hearing by repeating the magnificent lines in my head. Then my need to do this suddenly stopped; I began to love the narration.
Before I started reading this book, I was warned that it is extremely boring, or as my colleague put it '200 pages of absolutely nothing going on, that it's a complete waste of paper and time as well. But after I'd read a few pages, I quickly realized that I was enjoying the book immensely. I love the way he describes simple, everyday things, feelings, smells in a way that instantly makes you feel nostalgic about your childhood, that makes you wish to go out of town and settle in the countryside. And how it makes you look on the times when you actually had enough time to spend with your family.
I enjoyed this little book, so to say I was somewhat disappointed sounds disingenuous, but I honestly thought this would be a 5 star read. All the ingredients were there; classic, set in The Cotswolds area of England in the early twentieth century, the musings of an adult about his childhood days "when life was slow and oh so mellow" kind of thing. But my imagination just didn't take flight to that place I wanted to go. Parts of it were good, I especially liked the chapter on the grannies, only if the whole of it could have been like that? Still a good read. 4 stars.
Cider With Rosie is a memoir of Laurie Lee’s life in the Cotswolds immediately following World War I, and reminded me of A. J. Cronin’s The Green Years, being told by a young boy of a poor family. I thought this book was quite lovely in places and a bit bogged down in others. It had marvelous potential that it dropped just short of reaching.
There is a story about two “grannies” who live next door to the Lee family, rivals and grudging enemies, their story made me think of two elderly women I knew when I was a child myself. Speaking of Granny Trill he says, ”although she had a clock, she kept it simply for the tick, its hands having dropped off years ago. This seemed to sum up a lot of the aura around this book, a kind of unmeasured timelessness.
Another story of an elderly couple who were removed, quite against their wishes, to the workhouse, dredged up shades of Dickens and the cruelty of age in a society where few could care for their own needs and even fewer could take on the burden of caring for another. These stories were marvelously written and poignant and gave me a true sense of the life in this small village before the advent of machinery and automobiles opened it to the greater world.
On the other hand, there are long passages about church festivals and group outings that, while interesting, seem to plod on past their necessity. It is this disjointed meandering that keeps this book from earning a higher rating from me.
I must say that this is a rather short, quick read and has enough to make it a worthwhile read. I would never discourage anyone from reading it and would wholly recommend it as a nice way to get a true feeling for life in a small English village in the early parts of the twentieth century.
Ok, his prose is great. We all agree on that. He almost gives the reader synesthesia from his descriptions. It's excellent.
HOWEVER. I was sickened by some of the things I've read both in the book and surrounding it. I have searched through many other reviews, and all I've really found is "this book is so great because" or "Laurie Lee is the best author because he captures England at it's finest" blah blah blah. He kind of does, but then again, it's nauseatingly rose-tinted, and you can basically HEAR him saying "I can't believe how appalling the youth of today is [etc], I remember, back in my day, we would never..." etc etc snooze boring etc.
Not only is Mr Lee somewhat racist, he is also sexist. And no, I don't care if that's what they did at the time, that doesn't make it ok. It also doesn't mean it's the perfect wonderful England to look back on where everyone wants to live, because I wouldn't want to live in a country where it's ok to call a woman of (I imagine) African origin both "a Negress" and to describe her thus: " Mrs Moore was a jolly, eye-bulging, voodoo-like creature who took charge of us with primitive casualness."
He subsequent treatment of women is pretty awful too, from describing when he had to go and sleep in his own bed, away from his mother as "my first lesson in the gentle, merciless rejection of women." Because, of course, we are all the same, we all reject men and we're all cold and evil and have no feelings. Not only that, he also sleeps around frequently, from the age of ELEVEN(!), and writes, extremely casually no less, about a rape that he and his friends planned one time. Not that it actually occurs. But that's not the point. The intention was there to rape a Christian girl, probably because she is extremely innocent, and his descriptions of said girl aren't especially flattering.
All of this, coupled with the aged look of "back in the day, things were wonderful, our family had pride in itself and we made a name for ourselves in the village, everyone knew the name we bore" blah blah blah - all of that, makes for a pretty sour ending to what I thought was going to be a quaint look at country life in the early 20th century. Maybe it is. Maybe Mr Lee is adding in these unsavory parts to show how everything wasn't perfect. But I doubt it. I would like to know why he is hailed as such a hero, when I believe Thomas Hardy gives a much better impression of rural life and with spectacles that have not been near a rose bush in a thousand years.
A beautifully written eulogy for a magical childhood and a lost world. Cider With Rosie is unquestionably a five star read.
I think this is my third read and so, of course, I knew already that Cider With Rosie was wonderful but I had forgotten just how wonderful. It's simply a perfect book: elegiac, beautifully written, poignant, melancholic, and, above all, life reaffirming. One of the most perfectly written books I know of (right up there with A Month in the Country and The Remains of the Day). A poetic prose poem which is both accessible, and a constant delight.
That the world described is less than a hundred years ago is extraordinary. Truly the motor car has irrevocably changed our world and our lives beyond all recognition. We are blessed that Laurie Lee was on hand, at the tail end of the old era, to chronicle it so memorably.
I'm so taken with Cider With Rosie, and the autobiographical trilogy more generally, that I have visited Slad, Laurie Lee's village of which he writes to memorably in this book, twice in 2018, and of course no visit to the Slad valley is complete without visiting the Slad village pub The Woolpack.
I had previously read a Penguin 60 excerpt collection To War in Spain which took from Laurie Lee's As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and A Moment of War. These are, of course, the second and third books of his autobiographical trilogy. On the strength of that, I bought book 2, and found book 1 shortly after.
Cider With Rosie tells of Lee's childhood. It is loosely linear, but organised in to thematic chapters, so pulls things out of full linear narrative to keep them together. The chapters are themed with stages of the authors childhood - first memories, the family structure, school memories, the neighbouring old women, etc, through to his experiences through puberty (cue Rosie) and his sisters getting engaged and preparing to leave the house.
It was a lively telling of Lee's early life in the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire, starting in 1917. A poet, I believe, and his writing style probably takes something from that. I found his amusing and engaging in sharing his stories, but really, I look forward to the second part of this story, and to War in Spain.
3,5* Lo he encontrado bastante entrañable. Me ha recordado mucho a cuando leí "Las cenizas de Ángela", aunque no ha conseguido encandilarme tanto como esperaba. La historia está siempre rodeada del halo de nostalgia e ingenuidad que conlleva contar la propia infancia en un paraje y época como los que describe. Además, no sigue un orden estrictamente cronológico, cosa que le da un aire como de viñetas que van recomponiendo a fragmentos su niñez y preadolescencia. Hay un par de capítulos sobre sus primeras experiencias con las chicas que me han resultado un poco molestos y en los que no puedo compartir el enfoque que ha querido darles el autor. Curiosamente cuando el libro me ha resultado más especial ha sido cuando el foco se dirigía a otras personas, como el capítulo que dedica a sus tíos, a su madre o el que va sobre dos ancianas rivales que viven una en el piso de arriba y otra en el piso de abajo. Ese capítulo vale su peso en oro, el mejor del libro!
If anything, I would buy this book for the sole purpose of flipping it randomly to any page to be confronted by Laurie Lee's unforgettable mastery of descriptive detail. He belongs to a talented class of writers, which includes John Muir, who have the ability to capture nature in writing and speak to the reader in an inclusive and intimate manner. Everything in this autobiography is written with such a full, fresh, and loving fondness making it impossible not to like the obscure village of Slad, England and its lively villagers. Reading the verdant descriptions in this book is like biting into the largest, juiciest piece of fruit you've ever eaten. Even the moldy, dripping, cottage walls, constant struggle for food, nine living and three dead siblings, numbing cold of winter, and common English brawling and beatings don't seem that bad because they're described so beautifully. It must have been just awful at times, but one might never know how wonderful too if not for his telling of it. However, reader be warned, don't fall in love like I did with the bucolic, English countryside of Lee's childhood because it does not exist anymore. As he describes at the end of the book, that prelapsarian picture of village life that had existed for thousands of years, ended shortly after the first automobile came clanking down their narrow dirt roads. It is fortunate that Laurie Lee happened to be there to experience it and possessed the ability to document it with the vision of a poet before it disappeared.
I must admit, I wasn't expecting much from this, but I'm thrilled to report that this was a beautiful book, and it was one that I was sad to finish. From the outset I was treated to compelling and deeply descriptive writing, which caused me to travel to that Cotswold village, where Lee was raised. I loved how he describes the beauty of nature, the difficult, poverty stricken life he endured, the sights and scents and the sounds of everything glorious and everything horrid. It was pure glorious prose between the pages.
I adored how Lee talked of his Mother, as it was obvious how he loved and respected her. The woman had a somewhat tough life, but she carried on regardless. I particularly loved this excerpt;
"She was too honest, too natural for this frightened man; too remote from his tidy laws. She was, after all, a country girl; disordered, hysterical, loving. She was muddled and mischievous as a chimney-jackdaw, she made her nest of rags and jewels, was happy in the sunlight, squawked loudly at danger, pried and was insatiably curious, forgot when to eat or ate all day, and sang when sunsets were red."
To be honest, that section blew me away, and parts of how he described his Mother reminded me of my own personal qualities.
This memoir is significantly different to any other, as Lee decided to lay his chapters out in themes, that weren't in chronological order. So we have one entirely about his Mother, schooling, his uncles and various others. This was an interesting way of writing, and for me, it worked.
I really enjoyed this, and most of all, I loved how I was transported so easily, back to Laurie Lee's childhood in that Cotswold cottage.
I was looking forward to reading this memoir, the first in a three-part series. I was especially looking forward to it since this part of the series was based in one of my favorite places in England – the Cotswolds. Unfortunately, this book was so dry and boring. I didn’t care for the writing style. Towards the end, I really didn’t like how he and his friends tried to rape a mentally handicapped girl. Granted, they were young, but that was so disturbing. They weren’t successful. What bothered me especially was a seeming lack of shame and remorse. Other than that, nothing much happens, given the awful attempted rape, that’s a good thing.
A quintessential coming of age story. It tells of Laurie Lee’s childhood in Gloucestershire, just after WW1. But it is not only Lee’s coming of age, it is also that of the village, as the rural backwater changes rapidly, losing many of its traditional village ways and gaining things such as motor vehicles.
The first time I read it, I was quite young and slightly confused as it was the first book I read that was not really chronological, but instead told the story grouped by overlapping themes, such as seasons, school, grannies (not blood ones) and festivals. It also takes a very relaxed approach to consenting incest, underage sex and drink and attempted gang rape – not something I expected as a teenager reading a book of such antiquity! Rereading it as an adult, is rather different.
The most memorable scenes for me are not the famous cider in the haystack but two big disappointments: when Laurie is deemed too old to sleep in his mother’s bed and then when he starts school and is told to sit in a particular place “for the present”, and is bitterly disappointed not to be given said present at the end of the day.
It's interesting to compare this with DH Lawrence's early short story, nearly half a century earlier: Love Among the Haystacks.
This is not a fast-paced adventure book but it does create a beautiful picture of quiet country lanes, honeysuckle on the breeze and both the wonders and tragedies of living so far out in a world controlled solely by the forces of nature. It's a lovely portrait of childhood innocence and growing up, after reading it I got a desperate urge to visit the Cotswolds. The world of childhood is a very small bubble and this takes that alongside the equally small world in which this novel is set and it creates the idea of a place quite apart from the rest of the world, almost secretive. Did you ever make a secret den in the countryside when you were a child? If so, imagine crawling into it to discover that it led to a secret world that kept to itself and the outside didn't know about... that's the feeling you get about the setting of the novel, like you've crawled into a secret world. And what's more, it's completely real. A beautiful story. So why did it only get three stars? Because as much as I marveled at this beautiful world that the author told of so wonderfully, nothing much happened. It's a very sweet and subtle story but it could lead to boredom at times. I don't regret reading it though.
Os dejos por aquí mi reseña de “Sidra con Rosie” 4/5 estrellas ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (me ha encantado) Conocí este libro gracias a la genial @magratajostiernos me fio siempre de su criterio y sus recomendaciones. En este libro conoces la infancia y pubertad de Laurie Lee en un rinconcito inglés, bucólico, idílico y al que querrías ir en las próximas vacaciones. Laurie, su madre, sus hermanos, su casa, sus vecinos. Todo contado de un modo sencillo, con su vida diaria, sus costumbres... la vida misma. Laurie va creciendo y mientras también vamos conociendo historias de sus vecinos, muchas de ellas llenas de nostalgia y de melancolía que enternecen a cualquiera. Es una novela de disfrutar de los detalles, sin giros ni vueltas de tuerca. Ojalá editaran las continuaciones porque las hay. Es tu novela si te gusta el costumbrismo.
Loved it. This book was such a joy and pleasure to read. It is a collection of Laury Lee's memories of his childhood spent in a remote village during the time after the end of the first world war. This is a very heart-warming book told with so much understanding ad love for the place and people who lived there. There isn't any plot or one connected story to the book, so don't go into it expecting that. Treat it as a collection of short stories about different aspects of the rural life of the time period. The language in which it's written was so beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When Laurie Lee was three years old his family moved to a small Cotswold village. The family of eight had been abandoned by Laurie's father although he still sent them money. His mother was loving, but a bit flighty. The book is an account of village life, where the people lived close to the land, during the decade after World War I. His mother cooked over a wood fire, and water was hand pumped. The children attended a two room schoolhouse. The family enjoyed the simple things in life, but life also brought hardships.
Laurie was hit with just about every childhood illness imaginable, and almost died several times. An older sister did not survive childhood, a common but tragic event in the time before antibiotics. Difficult times like these balance other parts of the story that probably present an idealized view of his childhood.
The book ends with Laurie reaching adolescence and discovering girls. The title refers to him and an early love interest, Rosie, drinking hard cider under a hay wagon.
"Cider with Rosie" opens a window into a different time and place. Changes are seen by the end of the decade as the landowning squire dies, motorized vehicles fill the roads, and former soldiers choose non-farming occupations. The book is very descriptive, and often reads like poetic prose. Lee has a good sense of humor and included humorous events into his account. I read the illustrated edition that contained beautiful illustrations by 36 artists, as well as sepia toned photographs of Lee's family. 3.5 stars
I inexplicably felt relieved to finish reading this wonderful book since it has long challenged me since around those late 1960's in my college years in Bangkok (there were only six state universities then). Our English teacher, Mr Tony Kidd, was teaching us a foundation English course (I can't recall exactly if I was in year 1 or 2) and one morning at weekends I asked him for one or two English books (not simplified ones) so that I could improve my reading skills and he kindly recommended this title and To Kill a Mockingbird (Popular Library 1962) by Harper Lee. I willingly bought its reasonably-priced new copy and tried reading its first story but, surprisingly, I couldn't proceed beyond that; the best I could do was that whenever I tried to read a few pages, my eventual slumber crept in so I put it back on the shelf.
One of such looming hardships that impeded my ongoing reading toward fluency with accurate understanding was that, I recall, his ways of writing dialogues by abbreviating them as spoken English with its grammar unfamiliar to me; however, looking at the bright side, I thought it was how he tried to transliterate them to be as close as those spoken in rural England, for example:
''Oo did it?' I yelled. 'Nobody, silly. Your eyes got bunged up, that's all.' (p. 17)
'Please, miss, I got to stay 'ome tomorrow, to 'elp with the washing - the pigs - me dad's sick.' 'I dunno, miss; you never learned us that.' 'I 'ad me book stole, miss. Carry Burdock pinched it.' 'Please, miss, I got a gurt' eadache.' (p. 56)
'Let's go an''élp Farmer Wells,' said a fat boy. 'You can - I ain't,' said a thin one. 'If you don''t, I'll give you thee a clip in the yer'ole.' 'Gurt great bully.' 'I ain't.' 'You be.' (p. 139)
As a guide, we can read its synopsis by visiting this site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cider_w.... First published in 1959, this 13-story memoir describes the author's early life after World War I in a remote Cotswold village called Slad, Gloucestershire in England. His family was large totaling eight people; his Mother Annie (née Light), his eldest brother Jack, himself, his younger brother Tony, and his half-brother Harold (the first-born Reggie lived with his grandmother) and three half-sisters Marjorie, Dorothy, and Phyllis from their widower father. Please note the capital M as we can see in this memorable writing when he always mentions her fondly (rarely found in other memoirs I read), for example: "... , because Mother had said so." (p. 19), "..., my Mother disappeared to visit my father." (p. 20), "Our Mother returned from far away with excited tales of its madness, ..." (p. 25), etc.
"Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire,juice of these valleys and of that time,wine of wild orchards,of russet summer,of plump red apples,and Rosie's burning cheeks.Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted agin........."
Firstly let me admit that I'm a fan of history and not just battles, Kings, Queens, dates etc but socila history as well. This is a book of a slice social history.We see a life set around the family kitchen, early school years,family and friends but in particular the various seasons of nature.
'Cider With Rosie' is a tale of the author's early life growing up within a large family, without a real father figure influence,in a Cotswold village in and around the 1920s and is told from the standpoint of a child. However, in many respects it is a tale told in a series of short stories as it concentrates on differing elements of a simple and insular village life before the arrival of the motor car. Now I personally loved the chapter about the 'Grannies in the Wainscot' in particlar. Two old ladies, so differing in their characters who despite living as neighbours never once spoke to one another yet whose lives were regulated by each others very presence. It is not a story told with any real angst or through rose tinted glasses it is just told as it was, plainly and matter of factly just as is the rest of the book. We see a life set around the family kitchen, early school years,family and friends but in particular the various seasons.
Laurie Lee was a poet and a screen-writer as well as a novelist and this shines through in his choice of language. It starts when the author is but a toddler recalling some of his earliest memories. Here his world is large, scary, cosy and baffling, a world dominated by females and the language reflects this. Lee's real skill is that as the child grows so does his vocabulary as in normal life but never does the child's voice leave it. The language is always beautiful and so suggestive it takes you in and wraps about you like a blanket.
In many ways it is a book of nostalgia, a book of a by-gone time but it is also an illustration of writing about what you know. It is seen by many as a modern classic and rightly so IMHO.
It is 1917 and Laurie Lee and his family have just arrived in the village of Slad in Gloucestershire for the first time. Their new home is nestled deep in the valley, warmed by open fires and water is got from a pump outside the back door. It is two families that have come together, the elder children are from the first marriage; his father re-married when their mother died, and had a second family before going off to war. Even though his father is not there, it is a happy childhood. The war reaches its end and the village celebrates; the family lives in hope of seeing their father again now it has ended. It was not to be.
Soon he was old enough to attend school. It was split into two classes, infants and Big Ones, separated by a partition. It was here that he was brought together with all the characters of the village and started to forge friendships that would remain with him. The teachers were very different to those today, harsher and often brutal, they had little scope for tolerance, demanding only obedience. Life in a rural community was as much about the daily life and way that the seasons slowed moved on slowly. Singing carols around the village at Christmas starting with the squire, skating on the frozen pond, to the balmy days of summer spent playing games in the fields.
Its roots clutched the slope like a giant hand, holding the hill in place. Its trunk writhed with power, threw off veils of green dust, rose towering into the air, branched into a thousand shaded alleys, became a city for owls and squirrels. I had thought such trees to be as old as the earth, I never dreamed that a man could make them.
Lee is such a lyrical author, writing about this tiny piece of England that was forever changed after the First World War. It is not shown through rose tinted glasses; this was tough at times, death was a frequent occurrence in his family and with neighbours and other villagers. The hard work was tempered by simple pleasures. This glimpse of a time long past, of a place that he loved and made him the man he was to become when he walked away at the age of 19. Thoughly enjoyable book that is really too short.
Description was lovely, if often a bit overdone. I thought this book would get high marks from me...until I got into the last third. First, I was disturbed by his story about how he and his friends used to drown pigeons for fun, and then finally, how he and his friends decided to rape a (possibly) mentally handicapped girl. Fortunately, she showed a bit more fight than they were expecting and frightened them away. The author seems to look back on these events with casual fondness, as of a childhood well-spent. Now I can't like him or his pretty words, and won't be reading any more of his books.
(3.5) Lee’s quaint family memoir is set in the years immediately after World War I. He was born in 1914 and his childhood unfolded in Stroud, Gloucestershire and nearby village Slad. I started reading Cider with Rosie in April 2019 when we stopped in Stroud for a night on the way back from a holiday in Devon. I got through the first 100 pages quickly, with the voice reminding me slightly of Gerald Durrell’s in his autobiographical trilogy, but then set the book aside for over a year before picking it back up for this summer’s food- and drink-themed reading. Taking such a long break wasn’t a major problem because the book’s vignettes are thematically arranged, so there was no plot as such to lose track of.
Lee was part of his father’s second brood, born out of the widower’s remarriage to his housekeeper. His father left his new family after just a few years, and for the next three decades Lee’s mother dutifully waited for a return that never came. Lee was a sickly child, doted on by his older half-sisters. He was surrounded by a large wider family of brothers, eccentric war-veteran uncles and duelling grandmothers who lived one upstairs and one downstairs in a sort of granny annex attached to their untidy, rambling 17th-century stone house. The book depicts a village on the cusp of modernization: everything was still done with wagons and horses, but that was soon to change.
It’s a nostalgic, evocative look at a country childhood. Lee captures a bygone era, portraying himself as similarly on the precipice of losing innocence. The title comes from a late moment when Rosie Burdock tempts the adolescent Lee with alcoholic cider and kisses underneath a hay wagon. This penultimate chapter on the lust of the flesh takes an alarming turn as he describes the village boys’ planned gang rape of a religious 16-year-old, Lizzy. Lee was among the boys who followed her into the woods one Sunday after church. Luckily, they lost their nerve and nothing happened, but Lee’s blasé recounting felt out of keeping and somehow more dated than the rest of his material. It left a sourness I couldn’t get over.
Quintessentially English but not as purely delightful as I expected, this was still a book I valued for its characterization and its description of golden moments in memory.
Some favorite passages:
“Summer, June summer, with the green back on earth and the whole world unlocked and seething – like winter, it came suddenly and one knew it in bed, almost before waking up; with cuckoos and pigeons hollowing the woods since daylight and the chipping of tits in the pear-blossom.”
“Myself, my family, my generation, were born in a world of silence; a world of hard work and necessary patience, of backs bent to the ground, hands massaging the crops, of waiting on weather and growth; of villages like ships in the empty landscapes and the long walking distances between them; … [The horse’s] eight miles an hour was the limit of our movements, as it had been since the days of the Romans. That eight miles an hour was life and death, the size of our world, our prison.”
Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck, with a bonus list of 10 more childhood memoirs I’ve read.
This is a highly atmospheric lyrically written memoire of a childhood in rural England in the 1920s. One of seven children raised by a slightly eccentric mother in relative poverty, this could have been a story of physical and psychic deprivation. Rather, the author leaves the reader nostalgic for a simpler, more contented time.