The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez shares a riveting true story “with as many twists and turns as any mystery” (Los Angeles Times) describing her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—“an incredible and incredibly unusual book about family secrets” (Nick Hornby, The Believer).
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 happy and in perfect health. 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.
“Both page-turning and richly absorbing” (The Providence Journal), Five Days Gone unspools the tale of Cumming’s 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 Using photographs from the time, historical documents, and works of art, Cumming investigates this case of stolen identity with the toolset of a detective and the unique intimacy of a daughter trying to understand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. “Brilliant” (The Guardian) and “a story told with such depth of feeling and observation and such lyrical writing I couldn’t put it down” (Anna Quindlen), Five Days Gone is a masterful blend of memoir and history, an extraordinary personal narrative unlike any other.
Laura Cumming has been the art critic of TheObserver (London) since 1999. Previously, she was arts editor of the New Statesman magazine, literary editor of the Listener, and deputy editor of Literary Review. She is a former columnist for the Herald and has contributed to the London Evening Standard, TheGuardian, L’Express, and Vogue. Her book The Vanishing Velazquez was longlisted for the Bailie Gifford Prize and was a New York Times bestseller.
"This is an incredible, and incredibly unusual, book about family, secrets, the ruinous sexual shame and hypocrisy of the first half of the English twentieth century. It’s one of the best memoirs I have ever read... There is so much about [Five Days Gone] that moves; there is so much about it that educates. It is, and will remain a favorite, to be re-read one day, to be recommended to anyone who will listen."
– Nick Hornby, The Believer
"Laura Cumming's tale of pictures, secrets and the strange disappearance of her mother is an outstanding achievement... Enthralling... 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 (UK)
"Illuminating and deeply touching... a mystery solved through empathy and interpretation. It feels as if this is the book Cumming has been working towards, a deeply personal story but one that also draws on practised skills as a critic and a writer. It is perfectly balanced between the requirements of its narrative and the expression of its author’s passions. It is a moving tribute from a daughter to her parents and grandparents. It is beautifully written. And at its heart is Cumming’s belief in interpretation as a process of understanding, not just of art but of our lives and actions."
– The Spectator (UK)
"Brilliant... Cumming is adept in knowing how much to disclose and when to hold back... The book is a love letter to her mother, whose warmth, articulacy and survival instincts shine through."
– The Guardian
“Reads like a thriller…Questions and lies abound in this touching book about a daughter’s quest to help her aging mother uncover her true identity.”
– Publishers Weekly
“A satisfying mystery that could have been grist for Agatha Christie's mill. [Cumming’s] nuanced, pensive account restores reality and vitality to figures from out of the past, making them meaningful while uncovering their secrets.”
"By turns beautiful, wistful, and ominous... 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... so familiar as to be universal."