On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons by Laura Cumming (Review)

On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons by Laura Cumming

 

About the author

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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.

Blurb

In the autumn of 1929, a small child was kidnapped from a Lincolnshire beach. Five agonising days went by before she was found in a nearby village. The child remembered nothing of these events and nobody ever spoke of them at home. It was another fifty years before she even learned of the kidnap.

The girl became an artist and had a daughter, art writer Laura Cumming. Cumming grew up enthralled by her mother’s strange tales of life in a seaside hamlet of the 1930s, and of the secrets and lies perpetuated by a whole community. So many puzzles remained to be solved. Cumming began with a few criss-crossing lives in this fraction of English coast – the postman, the grocer, the elusive baker – but soon her search spread right out across the globe as she discovered just how many lives were affected by what happened that day on the beach – including her own.

Review

I had such high hopes for this book and I was so excited when I bought it because I loved the sound of the book and thought it sounded like a fantastic read. Sadly, I was very disappointed, although I know that this is probably a controversial opinion looking at other reviews on Goodreads and on book blogs. I do however think the hype and advertising for this book has been very misleading in just how gripping the story is.

I enjoyed the beginning of this book but quickly guessed the outcome as it was just an age old story that has happened many times in history.

This to me was a book of meandering thoughts and it drove me mad, Cumming clearly knows her stuff about art and history but this book really needed to be more to the point. Cumming just kept going off course and it was infuriating, this also meant that there was far too much book for the main thread of the story. It really could have been half the length and for me would have been a lot more enjoyable if it had been shorter and more to the point. It was like Cumming was worried it was going to be too short so she padded it out with other random thoughts.

I can see that this story is written for the love of her mother and I can imagine that Cumming’s mother must be very touched by her daughter’s book but to the casual reader it is too much. It is also very repetitive at times. I was grinding my teeth in frustration. It really could have done with someone just gently removing the repetition from the book for Cumming.

Overall I’m amazed I stuck this book out because some days I could have quite easily chucked it through the window but I did finish it in the end just to see the outcome. I give this book 2 out of 5 Dragons because only books that I do not finish get 1 Dragon.

Purchase Links

Amazon  •  Audio Book  •  Kindle   •  Book Depository  •  Waterstones

 

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The Brontësaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë (and Bramwell) by John Sutherland (Review)

The Brontësaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë (and Bramwell) by John Sutherland

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About the author

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John Sutherland is Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus at University College London and an eminent scholar in the field of Victorian fiction. He has published many books including a literary puzzle book called Who is Dracula’s Father?

Blurb

Did Charlotte Brontë take opium? Did the Reverend Brontë carry a loaded pistol? What, precisely, does ‘wuthering’ mean? 

Distinguished literary critic John Sutherland takes an idiosyncratic look at the world of the Brontës, from the bumps on Charlotte’s head to the nefarious origins of Mr Rochester’s fortune, by way of astral telephony, letter-writing dogs, an exploding peat bog, and much, much more. 

Also features ‘Jane Eyre abbreviated’ by John Crace, author of the Guardian’s ‘Digested Reads’ column – read Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece in five minutes!

Review

I received this book as a Christmas present off my sister in law last Christmas and since then it has been on one of my many TBR piles around the house. When I was waiting for a student to arrive this week I picked up the book and started reading and to be honest I was hooked.

I loved reading this book as it was a fresh take on the Brontë history and not to be taken completely seriously. Most of it I knew as I have read a lot about the Brontës and have visited the Brontë museum twice in recent years. I did realise a lot of it was Sutherlands’s opinions and some of them to be honest were rather sexist but considering he was thinking in Victorian terms I will forgive him, just this once.

I really liked how the book was laid out and that it was short snippets of information which were easy to digest and engaging. The only issue that drove me slightly insane was the constant see this below or above. I could have easily done without that as I found it broke up the narrative.

Bramwell the somewhat forgotten Brontë is mentioned quite a bit in this book which I found interesting as I did not know that much about him. It also made me feel slightly sorry for the poor man as I think generally too much was asked from him and he could not cope.

Charlotte I believe was not portrayed in a good light and yes I know that she could have destroyed a lot of her sisters’ works etc but none of this is proven. I want to believe that she did all her actions for a good cause and wanted to protect her siblings’ reputations rather than promote her own.

The history of the Brontës always makes me feel rather sad as they had such hard and short lives. However, this book showed me the good elements, like their love of animals and the little things in life. It made me smile and happy to realise that although cut short they tried to live their lives to the best.

All in all I enjoyed this book immensely and could not put it down which is unusual for me as I usually struggle with nonfiction books and tend to steer clear of them. Due to these reasons I have rated the book 5 out of 5 Dragons. If you love all things Brontë I highly recommend it.

To Purchase

Waterstones Hardback

Waterstones Paperback

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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne

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About the author

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Paula Byrne is a British author and biographer with a PHD from the University of Liverpool. Byrne is married to the Shakespeare scholar Sir Jonathan Bate.

Blurb

Who was the real Jane Austen? A retiring spinster content with quiet village life? Or a strong-minded woman who chose to remain unmarried and to fashion herself as a professional writer?

Bestselling biographer Paula Byrne uses objects that conjure up a key moment in Austen’s life and work – a vellum notebook, a topaz cross, a writing box and a bathing machine – to unlock the biography of this most beloved author. The woman who emerges is far tougher, more socially and politically aware, and altogether more modern than the conventional picture of ‘dear aunt Jane’ allows. Byrne’s lively book explores the many forces that shaped Austen’s life and her long struggle to become a published author, and brings Miss Austen dazzlingly into the twenty-first century.

Review

As I think I have mentioned before I discovered this book in the hotel room where I was staying in Bath over New Year and I began reading it there and bought a copy of my own from the Waterstones in Bath. I must confess that I am not the best at reading non-fiction but this book read really easily and did not seem like a biography. Whilst reading it, I have been using the lovely card we had on New Year from the hotel as a book mark as shown in the picture below.

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From the first chapter of this book I was hooked, I loved the the way it was laid out, each chapter focusing on an object owned by Jane Austen. I enjoyed how Byrne linked everything together with Austen’s life, her letters, her adventures, and her novels. Byrne has quite clearly spent a great deal of time researching Jane Austen and reading all of Jane Austen’s novels.

I found this biography to be quite an easy read that did not require too much brain power to get through. I find some biographies of famous authors quite in-depth and difficult to read and I have to dip in and out of the book. This book flowed easily and I read it fairly quickly. The only thing I disliked was how Byrne put across Austen’s opinions, when really nobody knows for sure what her opinions were and Byrne is clearly making educated guesses. I would much rather she had kept to the cold hard facts and opinions that Austen expressed in her letters.

I did find Byrne was rather obsessed with Mansfield Park but I did not mind this too much as it has encouraged me to read it again, as it has been some time since I have read it. I would also like to read Lady Susan as I have never got round to reading it but own two copies of it.

My favourite chapters were actually the last two chapters The Royalty Cheque and The Bathing Machine. The Royalty Cheque I enjoyed because it showed Austen making a living from her novels and enjoying some of her own success. I also did not realise that the Prince Regent was such a fan of Austen’s novels and that Emma was dedicated to him and Austen paid for and had a special three volume set of Emma given to the Prince Regent which is still today in the Royal Collection. It is the little facts like this in the biography which makes the book such a joy to read. The Bathing Machine made me giggle quite a bit I must confess, the idea of ladies being fully covered in clothes and going for a swim or a paddle around if they could not swim to be quite funny but also dangerous. I do not think the freezing temperatures would have done the bathers any good at all.

I truly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to any Jane Austen fan, I have already recommended it to my sister, who introduced me to the works of Jane Austen when I was little. It is an excellently put together biography which links together beautifully and the illustrations and photos are excellent. I have given this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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