Stuff I Love - Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee
'Cider with Rosie' is not the sort of book that I'd normally come across; pick up; and read.
I have varied techniques for choosing books to read. Sometimes it will be on recommendations, authors that I've already enjoyed books by or reviews. When I go to the public library I quite often scan the bookshelves for a spine that captures my attention. Then in order I'll consider the book's title and its cover. If it passes the visual tests I will check out the 'blurb' on the back of the book.
Anyway 'Cider with Rosie' was forced on me because it was one of the chosen books on my English Literature course. So that was how I came to read it for the first time. A very frustrating way because then you have to go at the speed of the class or more likely in my case speed ahead but then find myself having to re-read chapters in school time. This sort of thing virtually guarantees that you fall out of love with the book. Fortunately I think we spent more time on '1984' and 'Twelfth Night' (which I had to read in class, watch at the Theatre and even on the telly twice - I watched it then the teacher videoed it and made us watch it again) and as a consequence neither of those works will ever appear as the subject of this column. Weirdly I can't even recall the basic plot details of 'Twelfth Night' in detail - its something to do with twins and a woman dressing as a bloke from what I recall.
Anyway back to 'Cider with Rosie'. The basics are that this is an autobiographical piece by Laurie Lee about growing up in the Cotswolds in the years after the first world war. Although its autobiographical I think Lee does use a certain amount of poetic licence (which is fair enough since he was a published poet). He talks of endless Summers and deeply cold Winters for example. However, and this is one of the many great things about this book, although it may not be true it is authentic. By this I mean that when I think back to my childhood all the Summer days seem to have been hot and balmy and in Winter there seemed to be a lot of snow. Of course these are the times clearest in your memory and your mind extrapolates making you think that it was always like that.
The book is divided up into chapters (not unusual for a book I know) each of which deal with a different subject. Subjects include: School; the changing Seasons; his Mother; and local folk devils. The most famous chapter deals with his sexual awakening - the title of the book comes from this particular chapter. Obviously as a fifteen year old this was the chapter I gravitated to when I first received the book.
His writing style is very descriptive and so vivid that you can feel the sun on your skin or smell the aroma of the schoolroom. He has a chapter on being ill (apparently he was a sickly child) and the descriptions of the confusion and hallucinations that he suffered ring true with my own childhood memories of being sick. He also captures the personalities and characters of the people he describes. The chapter on his Mother is particularly affecting and moving.
One of the interesting things for me is that although this describes life nearly a century ago human nature hasn't really changed. The Daily Mail would have you believe that sexual desire and crime arrived with the sixties and was a consequence of the post-war Welfare State. This book has a whole chapter around the subject of death and scandal including a murder which goes unsolved by the authorities. As mentioned previously another chapter talks about sexual awakening in a very frank and un-PC way. At one point a group of boys plan to rape one of their female aquaitances.
Don't be fooled into thinking this is a dark book though. Its a life affirming read and is full of humour although some of it is quite dark. It has an earthiness and vitality so different from other books written during that time.
Finally a word of warning Laurie Lee wrote two further autobiographical books; about his time in Spain in the thirties. They are quite good but not in the same class as 'Cider With Rosie'.