On Chapel Sands
Laura Cumming

Book cover image

Narrated By: Laura Cumming

Duration: 7 hours and 42 minutes

What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

**BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK**


'A modern masterpiece' Guardian

Uncovering the mystery of her mother’s disappearance as a child: Laura Cumming, prize-winning author and art critic, takes a closer look at her family story.

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.

On Chapel Sands is a book of mystery and memoir. Two narratives run through it: the mother’s childhood tale; and Cumming’s own pursuit of the truth. Humble objects light up the story: a pie dish, a carved box, an old Vick’s jar. Letters, tickets, recipe books, even the particular slant of a copperplate hand give vital clues. And pictures of all kinds, from paintings to photographs, open up like doors to the truth. Above all, Cumming discovers how to look more closely at the family album – with its curious gaps and missing persons – finding crucial answers, captured in plain sight at the click of a shutter.

'A moving, many-sided human story of great depth and tenderness, and a revelation of how art enriches life' Sunday Times

(c) 2019, Laura Cumming (P) 2019 Penguin Audio

Genre

Memoirs, Theory of art, European history, Local & family history, nostalgia

Listen to a sample

Cumming skilfully withholds key twists in the tale, revealing them at just the right moment. There are surprises, but no shocks. Her prose is too elegant for such gaudiness – composed and restrained but empathetic

The Times

*Memoir of the Year* How we see -- and who see and what secrets they choose to share -- is at the heart of this exquisitely composed memoir... A peerless detective story that keeps you guessing to the end

The Sunday Times

Brilliant... This book is a love letter to her [Cumming's] mother, whose warmth, articulacy and survival instincts shine though. It's also an intimate portrait of a village community, with its storybook characters (butcher, baker, dairyman, bell-ringer, gravedigger) and their wonderful old-fashioned names

Guardian

On Chapel Sands is much more than a search for truth. It is a moving, many-sided human story of great depth and tenderness, and a revelation of how art enriches life. In short, a masterpiece

Sunday Times

By turns beautiful, wistful, and ominous… the reasons behind the kidnap, and the repurcussions, are every bit as complex as any served up by fiction, and, oddly enough, the dénouement -- or succession of dénouements -- is just as satisfying, perhaps more so... a meditation on the way some people disappear, and time erases memory... so familiar as to be universal, and will probably ring bells with all but the sunniest reader (***** Five Stars)