12 March 2009

Book Review: Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

Cider With Rosie This memoir recalls 1920s life in an obscure English village, in a house dominated by sisters. There were brothers present, certainly; but they faded somewhat in the face of the chaotic whirl set up by Marjorie, Dorothy, and Phyllis. Outside the house there was school (in two rooms), eccentric villagers and their wayward animals, and the area’s natural wonders (or in the case of the rains which flooded the kitchen, natural torments). Later, of course, there were girls - including Rosie with her jug of pilfered cider. And presiding over it all was the Lee family’s erratic, scatterbrained mother.

I’d long known of this book without having the foggiest notion what it was about - in fact, until I actually had a copy in my hands I didn’t even know it was non-fiction. It’s a short but sweet read and paints an appealling picture of life in what really sounds to have been a cold, damp backwater. (But then, it’s England, so “cold” and “damp” probably go without saying.) There was a darker side to the place too - crimes committed, crimes planned, crimes dealt with by the village and never referred to again. And all of it is described with a magnificent flair for words:

The grass was June high and had come up with a rush, a massed entanglement of species, crested with flowers and spears of wild wheat, and coiled with clambering vetches, the whole of it humming with blundering bees and flickering with scarlet butterflies.
Still, I couldn’t shake the thought that had I known the author as a child, I’d have thought him an obnoxious brat.

Rating: B

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776