My Dad and I usually have a deal when we go on holiday. We each read a recommendation from the other. I’m funny about recommended reads. If I don’t like the book then I’m always going to be in doubt when it comes to further recommendations. Most famous of these is with Richard Anthony Morris and “the boy who couldn’t sleep and didn’t have to.” I hated it and he loved it. It’s lucky that literature is so subjective. When it comes to my Dad’s Favourites though I’m a little more relaxed. We have very similar tastes. It probably has something to do with him bringing me up on T.S.Eliot and other poets. A few years ago on a family trip to Portugal he gave me a copy of Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and I fell in love. this week I finished Lee’s second work, As I walked out one Summer morning. If anything my love of Lee’s writing has increased and this review will look at both books rather than just at one.
Laurence Lee, or Laurie as he was always known was brought up in the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire. The first of his Autobiographical trilogy, Cider with Rosie, recounts his childhood and early teen years being raised by his mother and sisters. in a similar vein to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird we are told of a child’s life through the eyes of their older selves. what works with both stories is that we can still the beautiful innocence of the characters even though they are now so much older and wiser. The difference between the two for me is that Mockingbird tells an actual story. If you are looking for a clear narrative or three act structure then Cider with Rosie isn’t for you. This isn’t a story and there isn’t a tale to be told. This is a collection of memories. From his earliest thoughts being lost in the wild grass to his first tipsy kiss we as the reader learn of Lee’s life as told by him.
Lee himself is one of the most likable narrators I have ever come across. If a novel has a narrator then for me they either have to be likable or totally despicable and a little bit unreliable. I could well imagine myself sitting in a cosy pub with Laurie Lee and listening to his stories. In many ways that’s how these books feel. It’s easy to become enveloped in these memories and share the experiences.
In the second book, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, There is more of a story to be told. Laurie is 19 at the start of the book and I suppose that the older we are the more of a narrative our own lives take on. We follow Laurie on his journey from leaving home and his mother through to an extraordinary trek through Spain at the start of the Civil war. There is a clear start to the story as he steps out onto the road. There is a moment 37 pages into the book where he makes up his mind on where he’s going and there is the same decision at the end. It is possible to read this novel without reading Cider but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you want to understand the writer, understand where he’s come from. It makes finding out where he’s going all the more enjoyable.
What makes these books so enjoyable is the language Lee uses. usually an author who indulges in grossly exaggerated descriptions annoys me massively. However, the way that Lee builds a picture for you is incredibly special. He has an understanding of the feelings and emotions we attach to everyday actions and sights and then puts it into words that we not only understand but also identify with. as an example, in Midsummer he talks about his first drink of red wine after a hot day. “I remember the whoosh of the wine going through my limbs, the throbbing and familiar fires.” It is Lee’s way with words that makes his writing so effortlessly easy to read.
There’s one more book in the trilogy for me to read and I’m looking forward to A Moment Of War when I get a chance to read it. I might put up a following review or I might just keep that one to myself. I usually end these reviews with a bit about “who should read this book”. I’m not going to today. I enjoyed these massively and look forward to finding more of Lee’s work. If you like the sound of them then I’d definitely recommend having a read. just don’t expect the same feeling you get with other books. Reading Laurie Lee is something of a unique experience. One that I’ll treasure for a long time.