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Cider With Rosie

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Peace Day in 1919 is a colourful affair, the procession ending up at the squire's house, where he and his elderly mother make speeches. 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. It is easy to think of Cider with Rosie as a slice of English nostalgia, a recollection of idyllic rural village life in the early twentieth century. 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. 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.

There was a reassuring prevalence of Penguin books, resplendent in orange cummerbunds, as I rummaged through a squished cardboard box in my attic. 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. Because as much as I marveled at this beautiful world that the author told of so wonderfully, nothing much happened. 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. It must have been just awful at times, but one might never know how wonderful too if not for his telling of it.when he drank summer’s cider with the blooming Rosie, he felt rooted in an English Arcadia, at one with the ancients. 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. 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. First Light describes Laurie arriving with his mother and the rest of the family at a cottage in the Cotswolds village of Slad, Gloucestershire. It is loosely linear, but organised in to thematic chapters, so pulls things out of full linear narrative to keep them together.Lee’s recorded memories of those early years are abundant, so rich in detail and so specific that it is impossible not to wonder at the truth of his story; there are parts of the book that read as a sort of self-mythologizing folk tale. It was a small stone barn divided by a wooden partition into two rooms – The Infants and The Big Ones. 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.

Good-humoured, unpretentious and a bit eccentric, it's more like having a well-read friend than a subscription to a literary review. Here his world is large, scary, cosy and baffling, a world dominated by females and the language reflects this.

During one particularly cold winter the village boys go foraging with old cocoa-tins stuffed with burning rags to keep their mittenless hands warm. Laurie Lee described this, his best-loved and best-known book, as ‘a recollection of early boyhood’, adding the acknowledgement that ‘some facts may have been distorted by time’.

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