Original date of publication: 1959
My edition: 2002 (Vintage)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s Piccadilly, London, September 2011
Laurie Lee was a journalist, writer, scriptwriter, and poet, who also spent some time volunteering in the Spanish Civil War. Later, he worked with a team of documentary filmmakers, among them Emma Smith, author of Persephone’s The Far Cry. At the time, Cider with Rosie was an idea that Lee had, but Emma Smith encouraged him to finish writing it. Cider With Rosie is considered a children’s book, but even as an adult, I enjoyed it.
Cider With Rosie is the first in a trilogy of memoirs that Lee wrote about his childhood and young adulthood. This installment in the trilogy focuses on the war and early-interwar years, when Lee was roughly between the ages of 4 and teenage, and it is often hailed as a classic in describing scenes from a provincial childhood, much like Lark Rise to Candleford.
The book is organized in an interesting way. The book is arranged thematically, not chronologically; so for example, there’s a chapter describing Lee’s mother; another describing the elderly grannies that live next door; another detailing a local murder that affected Slad village. But this structure works; after all, who remembers their early childhood in strict chronological order? Lee describes the village of his childhood in deep, sensuous detail, and I loved the way he was able to capture people’s personalities and appearances with only a few sentences. I hate using the word Dickensian, but there’s definitely that kind of a feel to these characters.
There’s a sweet simplicity to the memoir, which ends with Lee’s emergence out of childhood into adulthood. It’s also a reflection, although subtle, of the outside world; a war is over and the world is about to undergo monumental changes. The reader’s knowledge of these changes coupled with Lee’s innocent perceptions makes for very powerful reading.