Chatto & Windus will publish Observer art critic Laura Cumming’s “astonishing” memoir uncovering the mystery of her mother’s disappearance as a child entitled On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons.
Clara Farmer, publishing director at Chatto & Windus, acquired rights from Patrick Walsh of PEW Literary Agency to the book while Nan Graham, senior v.p. and publisher of Scribner, acquired North American rights. On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons will be published by Chatto & Windus in July 2019.
Described by the Penguin Random House imprint as “astonishing” the book unravels the disappearance of Cumming’s mother.
“In the autumn of 1929, a small child was kidnapped from a Lincolnshire beach,” the publisher said. “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 50 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 billed as “a book of mystery and memoir”. Two narratives run through it, Chatto & Windus said, with the mother’s childhood tal and Cumming’s own pursuit of 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.”
Farmer said: “This is a memoir propelled by a daughter’s pursuit of the truth. Her tender portrait of her mother’s early life is transfixing – and fittingly for an art critic, the story is informed by visual clues that reverberate through the narrative. Laura is a magician of place and her atmospheric conjuring of the events On Chapel Sands makes for a very special book about the universal bonds of love and family.”
Cumming has been chief art critic of the Observer since 1999. Her book The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez (Chatto & Windus) won the 2017 James Tait Black Biography Prize.