I thought this book would centre around Lee’s romance with the eponymous Rosie, but actually she hardly featured. The story was more about Lee’s life growing up in a small village in the Cotswolds with the various characters that inhabited it. Every chapter, though vaguely chronological, had a specific theme, which gave each one the feel of being a little story of its own. I wouldn’t recommend the book for anyone who is looking for lots of action, but I loved the languid, lyrical descriptions of the village and the poetic language. Almost every sentence was quotable in its own right – for example, this description of a homeless soldier drinking tea in the Lees’ cottage: ‘He sat, gulping and gasping, the fire drawing the damp out of his clothes as if ghosts were rising from him.’
The book was very amusing, with its colourful cast of characters, such as Uncle Sid, who ‘committed suicide more than any man I know, but always in the most reasonable manner’. It is difficult to believe that the idyllic time and place the book depicts existed less than a hundred years ago, and yet in some ways the story felt ageless. A relationship with nature, for example, is something everyone discovers: when Lee describes how, ‘Chewing grass on our backs, the grass scaffolding the sky, the summer was all we heard’, I could instantly relate and felt almost as if I were there too. Then there is this iconic description of Lee’s first taste of cider, which I absolutely love: ‘Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks.’
However, another surprising aspect of the book was its melancholic undertones. Death was prevalent in the book; it was seen as inevitable that most mothers would lose some of their children. Although this was still awful, there seemed to be a greater sense of acceptance, perhaps due to the reassurance of religion, the commonness of death or the stronger links to nature. It made an interesting contrast to today’s world, in which the greatly improved medical care means that death is often viewed as a tragedy rather than a certainty. A poignant sadness also surrounded the end of the book, as the village, seemingly immortal, finally gave way to the modern world.
The open-mindedness of the villagers was another unexpected aspect of the novel. We think of the modern world as much less restrictive than it used to be, but ‘Cider with Rosie’ implied the opposite. The villagers’ quiet acceptance of things shocking even to today’s readers – such as incest, bestiality and murder – was interesting to read about.
One of my least favourite things about the book was the illustrations. I’m not sure if the same ones are included in every edition, but the ones in mine were neither attractive nor had any particular artistic merit, and I found images such as this one mildly unsettling:
All in all, ‘Cider with Rosie’ was an engaging read, with language so beautiful that I feel I would discover a whole new level to the book if I were to read it again.