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Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child

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Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she was kidnapped from a beac Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she was kidnapped from a beach on the Lincolnshire coast of England. There were no screams when she was taken, suggesting the culprit was someone familiar to her, and when she turned up again in a nearby village several days later, she was found in perfect health and happiness. No one was ever accused of a crime. The incident quickly faded from her memory, and her parents never discussed it. To the contrary, they deliberately hid it from her, and she did not learn of it for half a century. This was not the only secret her parents kept from her. For many years, while raising her in draconian isolation and protectiveness, they also hid the fact that she’d been adopted, and that shortly after the kidnapping, her name was changed from Grace to Betty. In Five Days Gone, Laura Cumming brilliantly unspools the tale of her mother’s life and unravels the multiple mysteries at its core. Using photographs from the time, historical documents, and works of art, Cumming investigates this case of stolen identity with the toolset of a detective and the unique intimacy of a daughter trying to understand her family’s past and its legacies. Compulsive, vivid, and profoundly touching, Five Days Gone is a masterful blend of memoir and history, an extraordinary personal narrative unlike any other.


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Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she was kidnapped from a beac Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez Laura Cumming shares the riveting story of her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—and how that event reverberated through her own family and her art for decades. In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she was kidnapped from a beach on the Lincolnshire coast of England. There were no screams when she was taken, suggesting the culprit was someone familiar to her, and when she turned up again in a nearby village several days later, she was found in perfect health and happiness. No one was ever accused of a crime. The incident quickly faded from her memory, and her parents never discussed it. To the contrary, they deliberately hid it from her, and she did not learn of it for half a century. This was not the only secret her parents kept from her. For many years, while raising her in draconian isolation and protectiveness, they also hid the fact that she’d been adopted, and that shortly after the kidnapping, her name was changed from Grace to Betty. In Five Days Gone, Laura Cumming brilliantly unspools the tale of her mother’s life and unravels the multiple mysteries at its core. Using photographs from the time, historical documents, and works of art, Cumming investigates this case of stolen identity with the toolset of a detective and the unique intimacy of a daughter trying to understand her family’s past and its legacies. Compulsive, vivid, and profoundly touching, Five Days Gone is a masterful blend of memoir and history, an extraordinary personal narrative unlike any other.

30 review for Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child

  1. 4 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    She started out her life as Grace until she was adopted before age 3, then she was Betty. A name she never liked. Later she called herself Elizabeth. An older couple adopted her at age 3, George and Veda Elston. She grew to dislike George, who was controlling and didn’t want her mingling with others in the tiny village. She wasn’t allowed to go out and play with any of the local kids. This story is about the discovery of her strange disappearance that happened when she was about 3, but she wasn’ She started out her life as Grace until she was adopted before age 3, then she was Betty. A name she never liked. Later she called herself Elizabeth. An older couple adopted her at age 3, George and Veda Elston. She grew to dislike George, who was controlling and didn’t want her mingling with others in the tiny village. She wasn’t allowed to go out and play with any of the local kids. This story is about the discovery of her strange disappearance that happened when she was about 3, but she wasn’t aware of until she was in her 50’s, that’s shared with and written about by her daughter. Who took her and why? And for what reason was she returned days later…? Read to find out. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Laura Cumming, and the publisher. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Also on my WordPress blog: https://wordpress.com/post/bookblog20...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This account of the uncovering of the past that was hidden to the author’s mother for much of her life has been much lauded, and I can only add to the chorus of praise. I loved the writing, the delicate unraveling of the mystery, the importance given to images, and the illumination of love between mothers and daughters. On an autumn evening in 1929, three year-old Betty Elston was taken from a Lincolnshire beach. Her mother, Veda, was close at hand as her daughter played happily on Chapel Sands, This account of the uncovering of the past that was hidden to the author’s mother for much of her life has been much lauded, and I can only add to the chorus of praise. I loved the writing, the delicate unraveling of the mystery, the importance given to images, and the illumination of love between mothers and daughters. On an autumn evening in 1929, three year-old Betty Elston was taken from a Lincolnshire beach. Her mother, Veda, was close at hand as her daughter played happily on Chapel Sands, but her attention wandered, she looked away, and when she looked back the child had vanished. Her father, George, a travelling salesman, was called home; the police were summoned; but a few days later, the little girl was found safe and well in a nearby village, completely unharmed but dressed in a brand new set of clothes. She was restored to her parents, her memory of what had happened would fade away, and her life would go on. It was a strange, and often unhappy, life for young Betty. Her parents kept her close, barely letting her mix with other children, and they held themselves apart from their neighbours, only keeping in touch with a few old friends. You might think that they were being over- protective after what had happened; but if that was the case why did there daughter feel no warmth from them, and why did she hear no words of love and care, not even one single word of reassurance after a strange encounter led her her father to tell her that she had been adopted? Betty eventually escapes from the confines of her life, to art college in the distant city of Edinburgh; where she will build a new life, as an artist, as a wife, and as mother. Laura Cumming is Betty Elson’s daughter, and as she grew up she came to realise that her mother never spoke about her own childhood. When Elizabeth (who modified her name, as she had always hated being called Betty) asked what she would most like for her 21st birthday, Laura answered the tale of her mother’s early life. The mother wrote: Because you have asked me, dear daughter, here are my earliest recollections. It is an English domestic genre canvas of the 1920s and 1930s, layered over with decades of fading and darkening, but your curiosity has begun to make all glow a little. And perhaps a few figures and events may turn out to be restored through the telling. And the daughter noted: This memoir is short, ending with her teenage years, but its writing carries so much of her grace, her truthful eloquence and witness, her artist’s way of looking at the world. That was the beginning of the journey that is recorded in this book, a journey that Laura Cumming made in the hope of filling in the gaps in her mother’s memory and allowing them both to understand why her early life played out as it did. I was captivated by her voice, which was intelligent, warm and compassionate. I loved the way that she used words to paint vivid pictures of her mother and the world that spun around her; and the way that she scrutinised images – both paintings and photographs from the family album – and gained understanding of both the subject and the creator. The mystery that unravels is cleverly structured and the revelations are judged and timed perfectly. Some are unsurprising but others made me stop and re-evaluate what I knew and what I thought I knew. It reveals a remarkable human story, aspects of which I know will resonate with many readers, and firmly rooted in its place and time. The arc of the story is relatively simple, but this is not a book to read just to learn the story, it is a book to read to appreciate all of the things that are threaded through that story. There is very real social history; there is a willingness to learn and to understand; and there is exactly the right amount of restraint – lives and families and communities are illuminated but there is no intrusion and no assumption about things that could not be known. There is a wonderful appreciation of the depth and complexity of family love; and it the loveliest of tributes from a daughter to a mother. I’m trying not to say too much, because I was told more that I wanted to know about this book before I started to read. And so I will simply finish by saying that this book is beautiful, moving and profound.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week: In her new book, the art critic Laura Cumming unravels the mystery of her mother's disappearance one day in late 1929. Five days went by before she was found unharmed, but she remembered nothing of these events and the silence about what happened remained for fifty years when the circumstances of her kidnap came to light. Laura finds clues in everyday objects and crucially the family photo album, and her search for the truth uncovers a series of secrets, betra From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week: In her new book, the art critic Laura Cumming unravels the mystery of her mother's disappearance one day in late 1929. Five days went by before she was found unharmed, but she remembered nothing of these events and the silence about what happened remained for fifty years when the circumstances of her kidnap came to light. Laura finds clues in everyday objects and crucially the family photo album, and her search for the truth uncovers a series of secrets, betrayals and heartache. Read by Laura Cumming and Susan Jameson. Abridged by Katrin Williams Produced by Elizabeth Allard https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    One for readers of The Hare with Amber Eyes (Edmund de Waal) and Rosie (Rose Tremain): a family memoir whose tone of emotional detachment is in keeping with the mores of the time it writes about. Cumming’s mother, Betty, was raised by adoptive parents, George and Veda Elston. But in 1929 something strange happened: three-year-old Betty was kidnapped from a beach in Lincolnshire and found five days later. Even stranger: at that time she was known as Grace. Cumming and her mother only learned the One for readers of The Hare with Amber Eyes (Edmund de Waal) and Rosie (Rose Tremain): a family memoir whose tone of emotional detachment is in keeping with the mores of the time it writes about. Cumming’s mother, Betty, was raised by adoptive parents, George and Veda Elston. But in 1929 something strange happened: three-year-old Betty was kidnapped from a beach in Lincolnshire and found five days later. Even stranger: at that time she was known as Grace. Cumming and her mother only learned the truth of her parentage and upbringing in the 1980s: (view spoiler)[George was her biological father, but her mother was Hilda Blanchard, a young woman from a local mill-owning and baking family. She was forced to sign a contract permanently giving Grace to George and his wife, and moved to Australia, where she bore two more children but always kept a photograph of Grace beside her bed. It seems George did genuinely love Hilda: he continued to send her photos of their daughter, all the way to Australia. (hide spoiler)] In this book, which incorporates fragments of a brief memoir her mother wrote in her sixties, Cumming constructs her family’s history slowly, often looking to photographs for the surprising facts they reveal about family members and their interactions. “Photography gives us memories we hardly knew we had. … Through photographs, we have relationships with people unknown.” She ponders how much of an effect her mother’s early years had on her, and struggles to understand and forgive George. The author is an art historian, and at times her discussion of paintings borders on the irrelevant; more fitting is when she describes Lincolnshire scenes as if they were Constable or Rembrandt landscapes, or likens a photo George took of Veda to a Vermeer. A quiet and gently rewarding book, but not one that will stay with me. Favorite lines: “Memories calcify over the years: everything grows more extreme – the brightness incandescent, the darkness infinitely worse.” “The lives of our parents before we were born are surely the first great mystery.” “Here is the dilemma for the adopted child: how to love and respect both mothers, the one unknown as well as the one who is here every day.” “although he is my grandfather, and I have his blood, he is like all long-distant ancestors to me – these people of the past who elude us, no matter how hard we try to drag them back out of time’s tide. A photograph and an anecdote or two; if we are lucky, some writing or a headstone.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Maura Heaphy Dutton

    A fascinating family memoir, intensely moving in the way it captures a lost past. Laura Cummings, as a late-life gift to her beloved mother, has drawn together the threads of the story of her mother's birth and up-bringing, a story so bizarre and emotionally convoluted that it could easily pass as the outline of a lost novel by Thomas Hardy. Cummings uses one episode from her mother's infancy as the hook to draw her readers in: when Betty was three years old, she was "kidnapped" out from under he A fascinating family memoir, intensely moving in the way it captures a lost past. Laura Cummings, as a late-life gift to her beloved mother, has drawn together the threads of the story of her mother's birth and up-bringing, a story so bizarre and emotionally convoluted that it could easily pass as the outline of a lost novel by Thomas Hardy. Cummings uses one episode from her mother's infancy as the hook to draw her readers in: when Betty was three years old, she was "kidnapped" out from under her mother's eyes, as she played on the beach outside their home, the Chapel Sands of the title. I use the quotation marks advisedly, as the snatching of the child turns out to be a tipping point in a complicated family saga. No charges were pressed, and no one was prosecuted -- although there were serious consequences for the kidnappers, and for "Betty." Who, technically should also be bracketed in quotation marks as, until a few days before the kidnapping, she had been called Grace, she had lived with a different family, and had a different life laid out for her. I defy you to read that, and not want to rush out and grab this book in your hot little hands, immediately. The whole story is a corker, and I won't spoil it for you by revealing any more -- Cummings has done an amazing job of family history research, detective work, reconstruction of time past, and sheer footwork, and you deserve to discover it just as she lays it out. But just to give you an idea of what she was up against, as she embarked on her research-- her mother (now no longer Grace or Betty, but Elizabeth) had no memory of the kidnapping, and knew nothing about it until she was in her 50s. Just one of the pattern of secrets and lies that surrounded this otherwise ordinary little girl. This book is exceptional for the way that it reconstructs the lost world of Betty's childhood. To quote another Edwardian author, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." And for Betty's past, her daughter has to drawn the maps, write the guide books, and devise the translations of helpful phrases. And she does this so skilfully that you can feel the stale atmosphere of the tiny, over-furnished rooms, smell the boiled cabbage that accompanied bland, unimaginative meals, and feel the hairs on the back of your neck prickle as you are observed by people who know more about you than you do yourself. As a journalist who specializes in art history and criticism, it's not surprising that Cummings makes skilful use of images: both family photographs, which are revealed to be fraught with hidden meanings and emotional undercurrents, and even classic paintings, which she uses to illustrate some of her points about family relationships, secrets and story-telling. The only flaw -- the reason that it's 4-stars instead of 5 -- is that, for me, it can be overwritten. Cummings is obviously very taken with the Hardyesque nature of her story, and in that spirit, the whole thing is imbued with a thick layer of poetry (aka, sometimes, and IMHO, as "cliche" ...). No object is allowed to get away without some deeper meeting, no vista doesn't lend some deeper insight into the very soul of the viewer. And every character, however minor, is on the lam from The Mayor of Casterbridge. To borrow an image from art, Cumming's tale of her mother's strange childhood is powerful enough that she really didn't need the veneer. But that's a flaw that is easily forgiven -- this is highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I can't grade this down too much for not being what I expected, but it definitely wasn't. From the description and the title, it seems as if it will be a delving into the mystery of Cumming's mother's disappearance as a child. And it is...but it also isn't. It's a beautifully written book, a deep look into life in the early 20th century. The mystery does get solved, but not in a way that anyone would have guessed at the time. It involves a lot of secret keeping from Laura's mother Elizabeth (Bett I can't grade this down too much for not being what I expected, but it definitely wasn't. From the description and the title, it seems as if it will be a delving into the mystery of Cumming's mother's disappearance as a child. And it is...but it also isn't. It's a beautifully written book, a deep look into life in the early 20th century. The mystery does get solved, but not in a way that anyone would have guessed at the time. It involves a lot of secret keeping from Laura's mother Elizabeth (Betty/Grace), because so many people knew about the situation that led up to the kidnapping and everything that happened afterward. It's a shame that her parents kept these things from her. Cumming is a skillful writer, she paints pictures with words that help the reader to envision what life must have been like for Betty. It also looks at how our memories are shaped--via photographs, stories people have told us, and what is withheld. I overall liked this book, but I was in the mood to read one thing and got another because I didn't really know what I was getting into. Definitely worth reading for the subtle mystery and look back into a past with its own rules, stereotypes, and secrets. I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, all opinions are my own.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    Enjoyed reading this and it's just about a 4 star book, but the more I think about it the more I'm not sure there's enough of a story here to warrant a full book. The sense of place is beautifully drawn - I know the area of Lincolnshire described. However, there's an awful lot or repetition and padding. The padding is done by what I can only describe as random art criticism, and whilst it is interesting it isn't really relevant. So, no surprises to find out that Cumming is an art critic! I also fai Enjoyed reading this and it's just about a 4 star book, but the more I think about it the more I'm not sure there's enough of a story here to warrant a full book. The sense of place is beautifully drawn - I know the area of Lincolnshire described. However, there's an awful lot or repetition and padding. The padding is done by what I can only describe as random art criticism, and whilst it is interesting it isn't really relevant. So, no surprises to find out that Cumming is an art critic! I also failed to see why Cumming felt so strongly about things that happened so long ago to her family. Everyone else seemed to have moved on but her obsession with unpicking the past and searching for 'answers' borders on unhealthy and unhelpful. And many of the book's illustrations (often reproductions of photos) were very poor.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mairi Byatt

    I have been so moved by this stunning novel, also learnt so much about art, and given me an appreciation I have never known before. I was actually at school with Laura for 12 years and always liked her but never really got to know her - my loss! I could have known one of the most emotive caring and beautiful people on the planet! Please, please read this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Janet Burns

    Enjoying the mystery of Betty in this book but it has been spoilt by the episode where the Grammar school girl, born in 1929, was able to have a polio vaccination, whereas I was born in 1941 and was among the first tranche of teenagers to be given the new vaccine in 1955. An irritation getting this information which can’t be true.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Börkur Sigurbjörnsson

    The art critic tells the story of her mother almost as if it were a painting. First, the plot is sketched, roughly. Then the details are added little by little, moving back and forth over different parts of the canvas. From time to time, parts of the plot are re-worked as needed by the unfolding of time. I found it an interesting approach to narration.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bookish Chat

    This book was on my radar for a good while before it was published.  I found the premise of a small child being kidnapped from a beach in the late 1920's and not having any memory of this event, extremely intriguing.  As most of you are aware, I don't naturally gravitate towards non-fiction, it has to have a real pull to lure me in and this book certainly had that. Laura Cumming's mother Elizabeth (then know as Betty) was playing on the sands of Chapel Beach in Chapel St Leonards, Lincolnshire.  This book was on my radar for a good while before it was published.  I found the premise of a small child being kidnapped from a beach in the late 1920's and not having any memory of this event, extremely intriguing.  As most of you are aware, I don't naturally gravitate towards non-fiction, it has to have a real pull to lure me in and this book certainly had that. Laura Cumming's mother Elizabeth (then know as Betty) was playing on the sands of Chapel Beach in Chapel St Leonards, Lincolnshire.  A carefree 3 year old whiling away an autumn afternoon with her mother Veda, enjoying the sands.  When Veda momentarily turns her attention away from little Betty, the unthinkable happens.  Betty is there one minute and quite literally gone the next.  Every parents nightmare had been realised for Veda.  Her husband George, a travelling salesman away on business is sent for and the police are informed (although interestingly not until the next day...). A search for Betty ensues with the folk of the village joining in to locate this child who has disappeared into thin air.  Five days later she is found in a house, the next village along, dressed in a completely new set of clothes. This strange event is then brushed under the carpet, and never spoken of again.  Little Betty is unaware it even happened to her, even some way into adulthood.  The people of Chapel St Leonard are very tight lipped about the whole disappearance and don't speak of it in the years that ensue. When Elizabeth and her daughter Laura do find out about the kidnap, it is Laura who is desperate to uncover what happened.  Her mother is far more apprehensive and is reticent to probe any further.  However, for Laura's 21st birthday, Elizabeth gives her the gift of writing about her early life, her childhood years with Veda and George and the difficult and isolating life she led under George's domineering influence. With the help of her Mother's writing, Laura starts to construct a picture of what family life was like for Betty, how she was almost secluded away by her parents and not permitted to mix with many people in the village.  We learn of George's foul temper and Veda's quiet, stoical acceptance of this.  Further evidence to substantiate Betty's childhood narrative is presented by way of family photographs taken at the time.  Sepia toned images of a young Betty with George, out on the sands. A young Betty being told to pose for certain images and look happy, when she felt anything but.  I really enjoyed looking at these family images which Laura disects in minute detail.  Poring over the light, the background location, the clothing, the expressions on the faces of those framed and captured in the images, and even speculating over who is behind the camera.  I find old photographs really fascinating and have often had a good rummage through boxes and boxes of old black and white photo's at vintage fairs, so I really did relish this element of the book. As the mystery of that day in 1929 unravels, Laura and her mother travel back to Chapel to see if they can discern from the surviving villagers and their descendants what actually happened.  What they encounter is a sweeping barrier against them, people who are  extremely reluctant to give away any details.  However, bit by bit a picture of Betty's life is revealed through photographs, nuggets of word of mouth tales and documentation and the secret that has been long buried finally comes to the fore. This book is so much more than just a memoir or a simple family mystery to solve.  It is a very accomplished social commentary covering village life and the changing landscape at the time. Laura often uses art to tell her Mother's story, due to her Mother being an artist and Laura herself being an art writer, and whilst this is an understandable route for Laura to take, I didn't always gel with these parts of the book. You can feel in Laura's writing how determined she was to find out about what had happened to her mother and how important it was to her own heritage. Knowing where you came from, who loved and cared for you and where you belong in a family is so important. Laura helps her mother to unravel her complex early life with such love and tenacity. I really was drawn in by this memoir. It is a fascinating insight into family secrets which were always meant to be kept hidden. The final page gave me a little shiver. I would thoroughly recommend it. Thank you to the publisher for my review copy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Howdle

    Sometimes blurbs do books a disservice and that fact applies here. The marketting of On Chapel Sands plays into our lurid imaginations: a child is kidnapped and goes missing for three days... child abuse, crime, terror? This appears to be the source of frustration felt by some Goodreads reviewers. And the fact that some think it is a novel and judge it incorrectly. There is nothing sensational about On Chapel Sands. Quite the opposite-- it is filled with disturbing ripples, rather like Anita Bro Sometimes blurbs do books a disservice and that fact applies here. The marketting of On Chapel Sands plays into our lurid imaginations: a child is kidnapped and goes missing for three days... child abuse, crime, terror? This appears to be the source of frustration felt by some Goodreads reviewers. And the fact that some think it is a novel and judge it incorrectly. There is nothing sensational about On Chapel Sands. Quite the opposite-- it is filled with disturbing ripples, rather like Anita Brookner or Penelope Fitzgerald. In this biography of her mother, Laura Cummins investigates a simple fact: why were there no pictures of her mother before three years old? Why was she known as Grace then Betty? Why was her mysterious disappearance from the beach concealed from her? The result is a slow and fascinating unravelling of a life. Cummins has an aesthetic background (like her mother). Consequently, this is rather more than just a biography. It is a study of how a biographer sees and interprets through pictures, real pictures, paintings and photographs, and through picture shaped from life by the imagination. Cummins is a modest and illuminating writer and this results in a book that is really about human relationship at its most sensitive: the bond between mother and daughter. In a way, psychological archaeology-- peeling the past back layer by layer until another world is revealed. On Chapel Sands is also an investigation of a lost rural landscape, one that Cummins approaches without nostalgia and sentimentality. This is a fine and slowly revelatory book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This is a fascinating story. A true story told by Laura Cumming the author, as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her mother's past. In 1929 a mother and small child enjoy an afternoon on a beach, Chapel beach in Lincolnshire. Suddenly in a moment the child is gone, kidnapped. It is five agonising day's for the parents before the child, Laura's mother is found. This is the story of the effects those actions had, on many lives. The child remembers nothing of this event and it is 50 years This is a fascinating story. A true story told by Laura Cumming the author, as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her mother's past. In 1929 a mother and small child enjoy an afternoon on a beach, Chapel beach in Lincolnshire. Suddenly in a moment the child is gone, kidnapped. It is five agonising day's for the parents before the child, Laura's mother is found. This is the story of the effects those actions had, on many lives. The child remembers nothing of this event and it is 50 years later that she learns that it happened. Many of the villagers know about the circumstances surrounding the child but all keep the secrets, telling no-one. This story is very sad in places as truths and family secrets are exposed and many pieces of the jigsaw are pieced together giving Laura, her mother and family answers to long overdue questions. I would highly recommend this book and wonder what I would uncover if I explored my families past.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    I love family mysteries. Five Days Gone unravels the layers of secrets revolving around the author's mother, Betty, who originally was called Grace. One day she disappeared from the beach, only to turn up a few days later. Most of the local villagers knew the truth about the incident as well as Betty's true parentage, but even years later, kept the secrets. Cumming reveals the truth painstakingly slowly: her mother's cold, austere upbringing, the truth about her parentage, unknown family members I love family mysteries. Five Days Gone unravels the layers of secrets revolving around the author's mother, Betty, who originally was called Grace. One day she disappeared from the beach, only to turn up a few days later. Most of the local villagers knew the truth about the incident as well as Betty's true parentage, but even years later, kept the secrets. Cumming reveals the truth painstakingly slowly: her mother's cold, austere upbringing, the truth about her parentage, unknown family members coming forward, and perhaps, finally a sense of belonging that she had never felt. It's a sad, yet inspiring story that you're never to old to hear family truths. Thanks to NetGalley for the early read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Richard Allen

    I heard about this book via twitter – which is an increasingly great place to discover books old and new and interesting writers. It sounded intriguing so reserved a copy at the library which turned into a bit of a bun fight as everyone seemed to want it. Anyway, it is genuinely brilliant – in some ways it is a cross between a detective story and a slow burning thriller. I found this book extremely moving and was close to tears at the end. It’s so sad the damage good people can cause to others a I heard about this book via twitter – which is an increasingly great place to discover books old and new and interesting writers. It sounded intriguing so reserved a copy at the library which turned into a bit of a bun fight as everyone seemed to want it. Anyway, it is genuinely brilliant – in some ways it is a cross between a detective story and a slow burning thriller. I found this book extremely moving and was close to tears at the end. It’s so sad the damage good people can cause to others and the misery and closing down of opportunities a damaged person can do, with one act affecting so many different lives and generations. The mystery and why are threaded through this fascinating insight into life in the 1920’s and the echo’s it had down the years. This book is excellent at showing how life in the past was for anyone who wasn’t born into privilege – which back then was pretty much everyone. It is easy to forget in our busy, stressful, technological age just how manual and boring and hard everything was back then and well just miserable and pointless for so many people. This book however is far from depressing, (though it is certainly melancholic) – though it is very moving. Full of insight and emotion and even love, it can be quite inspiring and humbling, possibly even containing redemption – though that maybe ambiguous... A beautiful book, you will feel it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    What particularly stood out for me in this memoir was the analysis and consideration of the photographs and paintings. Unsurprising in that the author is an art critic. I do wish the reproductions of these had been better, which to me is strange given the author's profession. As a testimony of love of a child for her mother it is beautiful. Many mysteries remain unsolved and the overwhelming diffidence of the author's mother means that this remains the case long after many of us would have demande What particularly stood out for me in this memoir was the analysis and consideration of the photographs and paintings. Unsurprising in that the author is an art critic. I do wish the reproductions of these had been better, which to me is strange given the author's profession. As a testimony of love of a child for her mother it is beautiful. Many mysteries remain unsolved and the overwhelming diffidence of the author's mother means that this remains the case long after many of us would have demanded knowledge. Then again maybe Laura's need to know was far in excess of her mother who may have made her peace with all of it long ago. I read this relatively slowly for me. Just how when we look at an art work we should sit and absorb and return and look again, give it time.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    An interesting and detailed family history, it’s fascinating to learn how Laura and her mother gradually discovered her mother’s origins. There is a tendency to imagine the thought processes and emotions of ancestors that she couldn’t know - I do the same thing myself, but in this case she digs down deeper and gets to as close to the truth as she’s going to get. Photos are reproduced in the book, but they’re grainy and dim. Sadly an artwork that is painstakingly described is also reproduced, but An interesting and detailed family history, it’s fascinating to learn how Laura and her mother gradually discovered her mother’s origins. There is a tendency to imagine the thought processes and emotions of ancestors that she couldn’t know - I do the same thing myself, but in this case she digs down deeper and gets to as close to the truth as she’s going to get. Photos are reproduced in the book, but they’re grainy and dim. Sadly an artwork that is painstakingly described is also reproduced, but these details can’t be seen. The book is like a detailed episode of Long Lost Family so if you enjoy that programme you’ll like this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    What a fascinating book. It tells the unfolding story of the author’s mother whose childhood and origins were shrouded in mystery - carefully revealed through the interpretation of pictures and the reminiscences of a long-silent family. The differences in culture between now and only a century ago are stark - in things said and done. It reminds me of some of my own family history and my mother who was passed round her family after her mother’s early death at around the same ago as Grace/Betty - What a fascinating book. It tells the unfolding story of the author’s mother whose childhood and origins were shrouded in mystery - carefully revealed through the interpretation of pictures and the reminiscences of a long-silent family. The differences in culture between now and only a century ago are stark - in things said and done. It reminds me of some of my own family history and my mother who was passed round her family after her mother’s early death at around the same ago as Grace/Betty - the things that were said or left unsaid and what was thought best. I love this book!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sheri S.

    A very well-written account of a daughter's search for her mother's origins...The book takes place in England's Lincolnshire Coast and gives some history of the place as well as its relatively few citizens. As a three year old, the author's mother (Betty), is kidnapped while playing on the beach and is missing for five days. The book uncovers the mystery of Betty's disappearance and recounts Betty's childhood experiences. The author includes pictures of her mother as a child and interprets their A very well-written account of a daughter's search for her mother's origins...The book takes place in England's Lincolnshire Coast and gives some history of the place as well as its relatively few citizens. As a three year old, the author's mother (Betty), is kidnapped while playing on the beach and is missing for five days. The book uncovers the mystery of Betty's disappearance and recounts Betty's childhood experiences. The author includes pictures of her mother as a child and interprets their possible meanings in light of her mother's story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Clancy

    The story sounded more interesting when I heard the author interviewed on NPR. Unfortunately, the book rambled with endless and tedious art history tangents that did not move the story along at all. Towards the end, it was just a slog to get through it in the hopes that the resolution would be compelling. It was not. If you're an art history buff, you might really enjoy this book. The prose was beautiful at times and was generally quiet. But, I would recommend being in the mood for a lot of stil The story sounded more interesting when I heard the author interviewed on NPR. Unfortunately, the book rambled with endless and tedious art history tangents that did not move the story along at all. Towards the end, it was just a slog to get through it in the hopes that the resolution would be compelling. It was not. If you're an art history buff, you might really enjoy this book. The prose was beautiful at times and was generally quiet. But, I would recommend being in the mood for a lot of stillness. And a near stream-of-consciousness experience.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    I listened to the abridged audio, done in 5, 15-minute (or was it 30?) segments. The story flips back and forth in time, which I have found difficult to follow when in these audio presentations. It was probably cathartic for the author to put this story to paper, but in the end the bones of the tale aren't particularly interesting. The book might go more into the humanity of the story. It was, after all, a heartbreaking tale for almost everyone involved. It seems as though everyone lost somethin I listened to the abridged audio, done in 5, 15-minute (or was it 30?) segments. The story flips back and forth in time, which I have found difficult to follow when in these audio presentations. It was probably cathartic for the author to put this story to paper, but in the end the bones of the tale aren't particularly interesting. The book might go more into the humanity of the story. It was, after all, a heartbreaking tale for almost everyone involved. It seems as though everyone lost something.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Masini

    I was disappointed in this book. I read it on my husband's recommendation as he'd heard it profiled on NPR. Basically the author prolonged the true story of her mother's kidnapping as a child to make a book out of what could have been a simple news story. The book seems to consist of a greeat deal of guessing about what may have happened as her mother was a 3 year old at the time and never had any memory of the events.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    A cleverly written biography of the author’s family. It tells the story of family secrets in a normal Lincolnshire family from the 1920s onwards. Also beautifully evocative of the landscape, a mix of social history, family, art. I really enjoyed this even though it left me with an overwhelming sense of the sadness for the people involved and made me wonder about the untold stories in our own families. Worth reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    I listened to this as an audiobook through the BBC Sounds website. This is a biography about the author's mother Betty, who it turns out was originally called Grace. One day she vanishes from the beach, aged only three, but turns up again a few days later. Betty cannot remember what had happened, and this is the premise of the book, to discover the mystery of what had happened to Betty. A sad and yet uplifting story of family secrets.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    ‘On Chapel Sands’ is a powerful meditation on love and loss and how secrets and lies can be contained in memories and images. Most of all it is a reminder to pay heed to EM Forster’s epigraph at the beginning of ‘Howard’s End’ to ‘Only Connect’ and as someone who lives in the area that the author writes about and who has a parent with a terminal disease by the close of the book I was emotionally overcome. It is a testament to the enduring strength of love in all its many forms.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Five Days Gone by Laura Cumming is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late August. Cumming investigates the mystery of her mother Elizabeth’s childhood kidnapping from a beach in 1929 by examining all known possibilities before delving further into research, though it's told nearly all in the aftermath of her return and learning the truth of her parentage. It's just way too dense a story for what could be summed up in, say, 4 sentences.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Tregear

    3,5 stars really. This is a beautifully written book, slow paced with lots of social history and history of that area of Lincolnshire. Paintings and art help build the scene and bring the narrative along. I found it a little frustrating that you get tiny bits of information about the kidnapping and change of name from Grace to Betty throughout the book but by time I’d got to the end it felt dragged out. To say it left me unsatisfied is too strong.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary Clarkson

    This was a very touching story about the author’s search for some of the missing pieces in her mother’s early years. It is beautifully written. Occasionally it is a little repetitive and her fiercely protective instinct for her mother is sometimes hard to understand. Reminded me in some ways of Bart van Ed’s The Cut out Girl and it would be interesting or read them back to back.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Beautifully written, slowly emerging narrative but seen through the prism of how important art is to our understanding of the world and relationships. If that sounds like tough going, it really is not. A humane and revealing true story, set in its context of a small community in Lincolnshire but with universal application. How true stories can be as fascinating as novels

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Started out very good, pulling me in. But about half way through it just fizzled out. There wasn’t that much of a story there and the author, an art critic, draws analogies between the story and different paintings. But it’s a real stretch sometimes to find the connections. It feels like a devise to drag out the story.

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