|Slad, Cotswolds by Gareth Jayne.|
Cider with Rosie is an almost universally loved memoir by the poet and novelist Laurie Lee, first published in 1959. It's the first part of a trilogy (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, 1969, and A Moment of War, 1991, follow) and in it Lee describes his childhood and youth in Slad, Gloucestershire.
As I mentioned yesterday, like Gaskell's Cranford, Cider with Rosie does not follow a traditional, chronological line, it's more a series of themes collected into chapters which are then presented chronologically. It begins with the family's arrival in Slad (from Stroud), the first few paragraph's showing the young Laurie Lee's anxiety at being left alone:
I was set down from the carrier's cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began.
The June grass, amongst which I stood, was taller than I was, and I wept. I had never been so close to grass before. It towered above me and all around me, each blade tattooed with tiger-skins of sunlight. It was knife-edged, dark, and a wicked green, thick as a forest and alive with grasshoppers that chirped and chattered and leapt through the air like monkeys.
I was lost and I didn't know where to move. A tropic heat oozed up from the ground, rank with sharp odours of roots and nettles. Snow-clouds of elder-blossom banked in the sky, showering upon me the fumes and flakes of their sweet and giddy suffocation. High overhead ran frenzied larks, screaming, as though the sky were tearing apart.
Lee goes on to describe a series of events in his life that shaped him, some small and perhaps seemingly unimportant but nonetheless they had an impact: being made to sleep in his own bed, for example, following the birth of his brother, getting to know other people in the village (and thus outside his own family), going to school for the first time, illnesses (from which Lee suffered many), and his sexual awakening courtesy of Rosie Burdock (further details on this theme, for example the planned but not executed rape of Lizzy Berkeley I felt marred the book, but then it was autobiographical). Lee also describes his home life, chores, routines, and his grandmothers as well as general village life and a charming description of Slad in both winter and summer.
It is a beautiful, bucolic depiction of rural life in the Interwar period. Lee is clearly in love with this area and the very detail of some of his observations bring to life an England now lost. I can't say I adored it but I did very much enjoy it for the most part, as I do all books of this ilk. And, it made me ache for summer, flowers, and warm breezes. But instead I sit here freezing and anticipating more snow later in the week!