I was set down from the carrier’s cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began.
The decision to start Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie came when I was writing my Fathers in Fiction feature – it is my Dad’s favourite book and one that I have never read before. As the first of Lee’s autobiographical trilogy Cider with Rosie depicts a 1920s Cotswold childhood during the simpler times where the countryside determined the lifestyles of country folk and the changes modernity threatened to it.
I have to admit that the poetic-style of narrative did take a little getting used to and its richness initially delayed my engagement with the text. If you take the fact that Lee was a poet before becoming an author into consideration, the narrative style makes much more sense but for someone new to Laurie Lee it isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to dive straight into. However forewarned is forearmed and if you stick with it, you will be rewarded!
Even in such a short novel (231 pages in my edition), Lee packs a literary punch – the striking turns of phrase and metaphorical language leap out of the page and linger with you long afterwards. Due to the narrative style and subject matter the pace of the book is quite sedate, reminiscent of a grandfather recounting his boyhood adventures. There is just the right amount of lyrical sentimentality to produce an endearing haze of quaintness throughout without roaming into the overly romantic or insincere.
Far from an exercise in descriptive text alone, the episodic nature of Lee’s memoir draws you into every aspect of his family and country life in Slad. Each chapter introduces a different aspect of Laurie’s domestic upbringing, divided thematically rather than chronologically. Personally, I found the chapters that focussed more on the people in Lee’s life rather than the events the most engaging. His neighbours (‘Grannies in the Wainscot’), his uncles (‘The Uncles’), the infamous Rosie (‘First Bite at the Apple’), and his mother (‘Mother’) all came to life through Lee’s eyes and we, as the audience, got to discover their quirks and personalities to great story-telling effect.
Admittedly, the poetical slant and focus on events and/or other people does make it difficult to create a close relationship with Lee himself – he is a writer reminiscing, an observer and narrator of those observations. His actions and feelings are exposed and because of this there are some aspects of him as a young boy that can lead to audience understanding but I still found there to be a distance. Though this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, nor would it stop me recommending it as a good read, I think it’s worth noting nonetheless.
Cider with Rosie is a superbly written insight into post-Great War country living, bringing eccentric and loveable characters to life and marrying a memoir with the engaging entertainment usually reserved for fiction. Beautiful countryside escapism.