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chesilbeach

Gloucestershire - Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

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GLOUCESTERSHIRE
 
Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee
 
Synopsis:
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a village before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.
 
Other Gloucestershire books:
 
The Bell by Iris Murdoch
John Halifax, Gentleman by Dinah Craik

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From my reading blog:
I first read this book in a horrible school classroom in a terrapin hut in 1984, and I don't remember the details, but know I disliked it terribly, so when it came up on the English Counties Challenge, I knew I had to read it again to see if my 13 year old self had misjudged it. Fortunately, Kay bought me a copy for my birthday, and despite putting it off for a while, it seemed like it was about time I faced it again.

As I started to read the first chapter, all my old prejudices came flooding back - the descriptions of his memories of being a three year old child are too romanticised and don't ring true. Oh dear, I wondered if I could bear to carry on with this over nostalgic narrative? Determinedly, I ploughed on, and I'm actually glad I did. Lee is a poet, and his prose is influenced by this, and I think that is what I struggled with myself. I've never been much of a poetry reader, and personally, I don't understand it, but when you are a poet, your world is all about finding language to provoke emotion, and this is exactly what I think Lee is trying to do with his memories too, to put into words the emotions he wants to remember from being a young, carefree child in a period of hardship and hard work. Once I learned to try and work with this style, I found it a bit easier to read.

After the first chapter, I actually found it much easier to read, and having been to Slad where the story takes place, I could picture the landscape of his childhood world, and get to know the family and his place in this long gone English country life, and by the end, I found I'd enjoyed reading his story, albeit with some reservations about how romanticised some of it felt. That's not to say there aren't some brutal realities in there, with recollections of living in poverty and the facts of living in an age before modern technology, but I still feel the early pages are a bit twee, and it slightly overshadowed the rest of the book for me. I know this won't be a common opinion, as nearly everyone else I've talked to about it, raves about the book and how wonderful it is, but it's how I feel, and I can't get away from it. I did enjoy it much more than I had anticipated, and it does have some wonderful descriptions - I love the chapter on his uncles - but it's never going to be a favourite of mine. I'm glad I've read it again, but perhaps that 13 year old in me just won't give up those prejudices after all.

 
Further thoughts for English Counties Challenge:
I think this is a great description of the county of the period.  If it was a novel, I'd be much happier with the romantic view of the period Lee is writing about, but I can't deny, the picture he paints of the environment and the people of the time is very evocative. Even today, I can match the picture of the area he describes to the valley I've visited myself.  I know there will be other reviews to come that will be much more positive than mine, but I think all will agree, that this is a perfect fit for our challenge, and I hope people will read about and enjoy the Gloucestershire life of a bygone age.

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From my reading blog (copied to my English County Challenge thread):
 
Cider with Rosie (***) is a book that I've long intended to read, not least because it's set very near where my grandmother's family originally came from, and loads of friends remember the book with great affection, but never quite got around to. However, stimulated by its presence on the English County Challenge list as the book for Gloucestershire, and, to a distinctly lesser extent, by its presence also on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list, I finally got around to it this week.

I finish it though with mixed feelings.  Evocative?  It certainly is.  Charming? Sort of.  Involving?  Well, no, not especially.  Indeed, although it's a relatively short work, barely 200 or so pages, I found myself constantly putting it down and then dragging myself back to read a few pages.  It' been quite a long week!  The book picked up a little at one or two points - the highlight for me was Lee's reflections about his mother - but generally I reached the end with a sigh of what can only be described as relief.
 
So, why did it drag so much?  Well, I don't think it got off to a good start with such precise recollections of Lee's experiences at three years old.  Three? Who remembers their life at three years old that clearly?  So, right from the word go, these 'memoirs' simply didn't ring true. I then rapidly found the writing style grating, reminding me of the rather strained efforts of a teenager's developing work, flooded with a surfeit of metaphors, similes and (IMO) unnecessary adjectives and adverbs (I found myself constantly reachig for a green pen, before remembering that this wasn't a piece I was marking!).  It was all too stylised (flowery!), reminding me of similar irritations when reading Gerald Durrell's My Family and other Animals.  Perhaps this was just a matter of dating?  Or maybe it was a case of age? - Chatting to several friends who remember Cider with Rosie with considerable pleasure, they all read it in their teens - I'm anything but a teenager!

 
Finally, I found the thematic approach, where each chapter tended to focus on different elements of life or relations, a bit disjointed, muddling up any sense of chronology or continuity - there were times when I wasn't sure if Lee was five or fifteen when something happened, an important context when reading memoirs, especially with the astonishing clarity of recollection of his younger years, and the chapters themselves tended to repetition (five profiles of different uncles, one after the other; three visits out of the valley, one after the other...).
 
But, credibility concerns aside, this still covers a fascinating period, that just before universal mechanisation, a fact driven home in the last chapters when Lee describes the decline of the Squire and church-centred community and implies the transition to a mere suburb.  For that alone it's worth reading, and I valued the insight provided.  I just wish it had been written with less apparent effort.
 
Notes for this thread:
Having read, and written my review of, Cider with Rosie, I've only now read Claire's review above.  It's so interesting to see how, we meets up in our thoughts on some points and then wander apart to differ on others (a nice coincidence - we both specifically cite the 'Uncle's chapter, but come to rather different conclusions!). I do think she is rather more perceptive on Lee's writing style than I am! This for me is the real strength of threads and themes like this.  I would also agree with her that, whatever my thoughts on the book itself, it makes a great fit on the list.  I'm really glad too that its presence there meant that I've finally got around to reading one of the most famous location-related books in the canon.  It was definitely worth the read.

Edited by willoyd

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I wrote this for my reading log:

 

I'm not entirely sure I would have picked it up if it were not for the counties challenge. 

 

Lee's writing style isn't for me. It's written more like poetry, which I don't read, and I often got bogged down in the descriptions of things rather than being able to enjoy them. 

 

However, I did enjoy reading about his life in the village and the people in it. It does feel like another world, even though it wasn't that long ago comparatively, and I loved reading about his mother, who was easily my favourite character that we met among the pages. The sleepy pace of this book matches the sleep pace of life in the village, but it doesn't make for a very interesting read, and it was tricky to pick the book up again once I had put it down. 

 

For the Counties challenge, it did evoke a wonderful sense of place and time, so thoroughly deserving of its place on the list, and I am glad I read it, but it's not one I would ever return to. 

 

Having read everyone else's thoughts, I can't disagree at all. I just had a lot less to say and said it a lot less eloquently! But I'm afraid that it's how it made me feel - a little uninspired if I am honest. 

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This is my review from when I read it - I'm rather at odds with everyone else!  :D

 

I know a lot of people read this at school, but for some reason, it bypassed me and it’s one of those books that I’ve mean to read for years and years but it was only because I found an old copy for £1 in a charity shop that I’ve finally got round to it.

 

It’s the first part of Laurie Lee’s autobiography, which starts in 1917 when he was three years old, and tells of his life in the rural Gloucestershire village of Slad.  Lee’s mother married a widower with three daughters - who moved to London and left her to raise them, together with their own children.   Their scatterbrained mother believes that one day Laurie’s father will return to them, but in the meantime raises his children and theirs in her own inimitable way! 

 

I’ve clearly missed out on a real gem.  What a delightful, charming book which, despite being old-fashioned still entertains today.  His prose is wonderful and it has some really chuckle-out-loud moments in it.

 

I gave it 10/10 back then.  It might get a 4/5 now - it's difficult to say without rereading it (which I'm not planning to do).

 

I've gone on to read three more of his books and have very much enjoyed those too.  I started his selected poems last night.  (I've just remembered I haven't logged it on Goodreads yet). 

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