On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons by Laura Cumming
About the author
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.
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.
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.