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Review of a classic book: Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

Updated on May 14, 2012

A book worth reading more than once.

This gentle memoir of a long-lost time in England brought village boy Laurie Lee fame and fortune after it appeared in 1959. Although he wrote many other books and was well regarded as a poet it is the remarkable prose in 'Cider with Rosie' that takes one's breath away.

It is by turns evocative, romantic and comedic and one continues to marvel both at his insight and his invention. It could be said that the lyricism of the writing has parallels with 'Under Milkwood' by Dylan Thomas but there is greater lucidity and accessibility in 'Cider with Rosie'.

I have a rule that I never read a book twice. There is so little time in one lifetime to repeat things and there are so many books to read. This book is my one exception and I take it off the shelf every few years and immerse myself in its beauty.

Life in the village.

Laurie Lee was born during the first year of the 1st World War and moved, with his mother and six siblings, into the Gloucestershire village of Slad, near the town of Stroud in Gloucestershire, when he was three. The family had been abandoned by their father who went to London, ostensibly to help in the war effort, though not as a soldier. He never came back but settled after the war in London suburbia with another wife.

Laurie's enchantingly feckless mother however remained in love with him and never gave up hope of him coming back to them. She only gave up on this dream when he died. Laurie, for one, never missed him.

And so, their life in the village began and his memoir is the tale of the village, the family's place in it and his own boyhood with its alternating humour and pathos. Their's was a life of relentless poverty as was the case for so many in the village in those days. Most of the villagers worked the land for the Squire and he and the Church ruled over everybody's lives in their own benignly thoughtless way just as they had always done.

The Slad valley in Gloucestershire where Laurie Lee's village is situated.
The Slad valley in Gloucestershire where Laurie Lee's village is situated. | Source
The village of Slad from across the valley
The village of Slad from across the valley | Source
A pond with a sinister story in Cider with Rosie
A pond with a sinister story in Cider with Rosie | Source

A lost time.

Laurie Lee was writing about a way of life that was under threat. In the 1920s great changes were on the way but despite this brisk wind of change sweeping the country after the Great War, Slad, hidden as it was in its rural fold in the landscape, managed to slumber on in the old ways for a little longer.

As a boy, he absorbed the sights and sounds around him by a process of observant osmosis and his immersion in the ways of the village remained with him until he felt he had to create this book in loving remembrance of those times. From these pages flows the life of the village and its characters, its shames, its fun, its tragedies and it is impossible to remain unmoved. 'Cider with Rosie' is a rare and valuable testament to that last gasp of the British feudal system and its patriarchy.

The clarity of record.

It's easy for the older ones amongst us to look back to those times through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. Some of us with a rural background remember times vaguely like that and I suppose the appeal of this book for me is the similarity to my own childhood village in the 1950s.

We conveniently forget the deaths from now-curable diseases, the greater risk of childbirth, the weekly war between wages and basic necessities and see only the freedom, the play and the constant summers. Laurie Lee does not make that mistake. He had the strength to tell it like it really was and it is to his lasting credit that despite this clarity of record the sheer poetry of his writing still has the power to enthral even the most cynical of us.

It's all gone now. Laurie Lee died in 1997, Slad's inherent beauty now belongs only to the rich and children are rarely allowed the freedom of roaming wild in the woods. These facts alone make 'Cider with Rosie' all the more valuable.

I would recommend that if you wish to buy this book, you buy the 'Illustrated' version so that you can see the sepia photographs of Laurie, his family and the village as well as other beautiful artwork of rural scenes. This is my own treasured and much thumbed version of the book.

The Woolpack Inn in Slad where Laurie drank when he returned to the village to live out the rest of his life.
The Woolpack Inn in Slad where Laurie drank when he returned to the village to live out the rest of his life. | Source

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    • profile image

      joop 

      3 years ago

      saai achtig

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Thanks for the recommendation, Jools. And for the idea for a hub ... bless!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Desert Island Books Angie - you should do a hub, you'd get plenty of comments I reckon. Mine would be 'Behind The Scenes At The Museum' by Kate Atkinson which is also a book about the past and the generations of the same family; I have read it about 5 or 6 times and I find something new every time I read it.

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi Jools ... maybe now you are older it will appeal more.

      I'm a real sucker for nostalgia of country life ... indeed, I lived in a small village during the last gasp of the old days ... the 1950's. In came the 1960's and with it the loss of a sort of innocence.

      I have the most beautiful copy of this book and I just love it for the lyricism of his words as well as his humour. It would be my choice for taking to a desert island ...

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Angie - I was supposed to read 'Cider With Rosie' for O Level English Literature and I never got beyond the second chapter - needless to say, I failed O Level English! Well, you have convinced me that I should give it another try so I'm going to download it to my Kindle this afternoon. Great review, you have convinced me to read it, voted up.

    • Angie Jardine profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Jardine 

      6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Well thank you very much, marwan ... you could have paid me no better compliment.

      This is my favourite book of all time and well worth actually buying a copy ... which is something I very rarely say.

    • marwan asmar profile image

      Marwan Asmar 

      6 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      A beautiful snapshot. Thank you for reminding of this book which until now, it had hitherto stayed deep in the back of my mind forgotten. Actually I now regret I haven't read Cider with Rosie which I remembered seeing in the shelves of the different bookstores I frequented in Hastings in the early 1970s. After your review, I now must get hold of the book, and make sure I'll read it.

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