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

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,433 ratings  ·  216 reviews
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
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 27th 2019 by Scribner (first published July 4th 2019)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Laura Cumming found the inspiration to write this memoir in a story of a 3-year-old girl who was abducted in 1929 from a beach, and was found safe and sound after five days. This story had a happy end, even a double one, as the little girl had no memories of the event as she grew older. This all sounds like a plot of a good thriller, however, it is even better than that, since the little girl was Ms Cumming’s mother. After years of silence, secrets and allusions, Laura Cumming decided to ...more
Diane S ☔
Oct 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019
3.5 A mother and daughter search for answers in this unusual memoir. Family, art and the quest for identity are major themes as a set of photographs are the impetus that leads the daughter to try to track down the mystery of her mother's life. A family story with a mystery at the heart as her mother was taken when she was three and returned a few days later. Who took her and why was she returned? Following the clues in the pictures, she finds out her mother, now called Betty, was once called ...more
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’ ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has its origins and setting in Chapel St Leonards, a village on the Lincolnshire coast. Being a Lincolnshire lad I therefore had to read this. Laura Cummings’s mother was brought up there and Cummings has set out to piece together her mother’s upbringing. Her mother was born in 1926, is still living and was adopted at the age of three. It was not until many years later and Cummings and her mother discovered that in 1929 three year old Betty was kidnapped from Chapel Sands and was not ...more
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author painted a beautiful picture of her mother's life and times. As I pictured this little girl I wish I could have taken her in my arms, she had such a hard life. While reading I realised was not so very different from my own mother's life story.
It also occurred to me that preserving photos and other material from grandparents, great grandparents does help to find out how they lived. I know so little in that respect.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a moving memoir, by Laura Cumming, about her mother’s early life. Her mother, Elizabeth, was known as Betty as a child, but, before that, she was Grace. She lived in a seaside village, Chapel St Leonards, where, one day in 1929, she was abducted from the beach. One moment she played on the sand, with her adopted mother, Veda, the next she was snatched away and was missing for some days.

In this book, Laura Cumming attempts to uncover the mystery of this mysterious event in her mother’s
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I talk about this book in my video for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction 2019 Shortlist:
Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
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,
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
I heard about this book on NPR, and it sounded so compelling that I immediately acquired a copy. There is too much book for the story. I almost immediately guessed the kernel of the story, and although the NPR piece had set me up for a big surprise at the end, none came--what I had already guessed was the whole surprise. The writing is overwrought, with detail that becomes truly excruciating as well as repetitive. I can see where writing this was an act of love on the part of the author for her ...more
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 ...more
Andrew Howdle
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 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 ...more
Robert Sheard
Dec 16, 2019 rated it liked it
This one suffers from too much, and misleading, marketing hype. There's not much of a mystery, since everyone in Chapel apparently knew the truth except the author's mother. But I think a bigger problem is that the author, by her own admission, really only has a handful of photos and some very incomplete and biased childhood stories, but then speculates (often pretty wildly) about what her grandfather was actually like. This isn't a true crime book. It isn't a mystery. It's a couple hundred ...more
Mairi Byatt
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An elegantly written meditation on family, identity, secrets, memory and imagery.
Laura Cumming is my new favourite nonfiction author. I read The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece last year and was completely blown away by it. This is why I was so excited to read Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed.

This book is a true account of Cumming's mother's five day disappearance from a beach when she was a young child and the aftershocks that resulted from
Maura Heaphy Dutton
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
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
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve been reading a few memoirs recently. Rather unusual for me as my preferences lean quite heavily towards fiction, often from the mid-20th-century. Nevertheless, I found myself drawn to this book when it came out earlier this year, prompted by a flurry of positive reports and reviews. Now that I’ve read it, I suspect it may well end up being one of the highlights of my reading year; it really is very good indeed.

In brief, On Chapel Sands is the story of Laura’s mother, Betty Elston – more
Oct 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: could-not-finish
I really tried, but this book meanders all over the place. I only got to page 75 and gave it up.
Written well, but very slow to develop and much too long. The actual story of the kidnap of the author's mother doesn't really need a book this long and the chapter where all is revealed is almost at the end.
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it
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
Aug 27, 2019 rated it liked it
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
Lisa Masini
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
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.
Janet Burns
Jul 05, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mary Arkless
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Borrowed from the library. As I have a cold and was feeling rather sorry for myself, I read the book in one day.

This is a writing style that captures me and doesn't want to let me go. Also, the author was good at hinting at further unravelling of the mystery, so that I wanted to carry on and see what happened next.

The author's mother had lived a very claustrophobic childhood. She was never allowed to go anywhere alone. For the most part, she wasn't allowed to go anywhere. When this is your norm,
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.
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
The true story of the kidnapping of a little girl in 1929 and the mystery surrounding it.
Alexandra Daw
As a family historian and infrequent contributor to the blog Sepia Saturday, the premise of this book intrigued me. And there was an Australian connection too; always a bonus.
The author's professional background as an art critic helps her address her perceived bias when it comes to judging ancestors' motives or attitudes as the story of her mother's "adoption" develops. As well as employing traditional family historian methods of research (looking up census records, parish records, reading
Dec 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
In this well written memoir, the author recounts the unfolding of her mother’s unknown past with love and empathy. The book is illustrated in black and white with old photographs and other pictures. One high point was the author’s application of art appreciation techniques to interpret a few old family photographs, leading to some interesting conclusions. In its tight focus on the author’s mother’s point of view, however, at times this recounting seemed to fall short in understanding/empathy for ...more
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Laura Cumming (born July 1961) the art critic for The Observer. In addition to her career in journalism, Cumming has written well-received books on self-portraits in art and the discovery of a lost portrait by Diego Velázquez in 1845.