I’m still hurrying through Go Set A Watchman – just 30 pages to go now! – but in the meantime I thought I’d post a couple of thoughts about this book, by another Lee, which I read last week.
Cider With Rosie has been on my radar for ages, mainly because I know several people who were ‘forced’ to read it at school. I don’t know if it’s still on the curriculum but I can imagine that if I’d read it as a teenager I’d have found it really dry and unexciting. It’s a shame because, reading it as an adult, I was really impressed and wondered why I’d not bothered with it before.
It’s an autobiographical account of Lee’s childhood in the rural Gloucestershire village of Slad. Instead of detailing everything that happened in his life in chronological order Lee groups his memories by theme, so there are chapters devoted to local characters, the changing seasons, his school days and so on. I think this makes it more like a portrait of life in a rural village immediately after the first war, before cars and televisions started to make their mark and the world became a much smaller place. It’s nostalgic and a bit sentimental but beautifully written.
In fairness I can’t say that I loved it immediately. I found the opening chapter jarring and it then ambled along quite slowly for ages with nothing much happening. It took me a while to adjust to the slow pace but it certainly gave me plenty of time to take in Lee’s wonderful descriptions of the countryside and his family. Some of these feel almost effortlessly perfect. I particularly loved the chapter devoted to Lee’s mum, which was really moving. I ended up reading it twice.
“In trying to recapture the presence of my Mother I am pulling at broken strings. The years run back and through the pattern of her confusions. Her flowers and songs, her unshaken fidelities, her attempts at order, her relapses into squalor, her near madness, her crying for light, her almost daily weeping for her dead child daughter, her frisks and gaieties, her fits of screams, her love of man, her hysterical rages, her justice towards each of us children – all these rode my mother and sat on her shoulders like a roosting of ravens and doves.”
The title is a thinly veiled euphemism for an event that occurs late in the book, so I was amused to find the following handwritten inscription inside the front cover of my second hand copy: “Shouldn’t it be ‘Cider With Lil?’ Love Shep, Feb 1983”. I like it when I get a hint of the previous owners of my books; this felt like I’d stumbled across some personal private joke between friends!