Doing Harm | Maya Dusenbery | Book Review

My collection of books about women’s rage is large. It’s not quite as large (yet) as my collection of books about women’s failure to be adequately cared for by health care systems. I suspect one category has something to do with the other- but let’s not dwell on that. Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery fits completely into the latter category, but she doesn’t ignore the former.

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Five Days Gone | Laura Cumming | Book Review

Five Days Gone by Laura Cumming: Not a winner for me! A book entitled “Five Days Gone: The Mystery of my Mother’s Disappearance as a Child” almost inevitably gives you psychological thriller vibes. Or at least criminal mystery vibes. Or vibes bordering on ‘this could be intriguing’. Having now read the book, I regret to say that this subtitle is perhaps … misleading at best. It could have been called “Five Days Gone: The Days I Won’t get Back from Reading this Book.” I will not tell you what happens except to say it is not a psychological thriller. Nor is there a humorous British detective who will make an appearance. It’s actually all rather mundane.

Five Days Gone by Laura Cumming: Synopsis

Cumming spends about 300 pages writing what is essentially her mother’s memoir, interspersed with some commentary on art, which I didn’t really follow. (I don’t really care for art in a technical way, so could explain it). It is a family story – all true, sort of – based on the author’s mother’s five day disappearance when she (the mother) was three years old. I was anticipating some kind of criminal drama. In actuality, Cumming is exploring her own family’s history and asking questions about who did what and when.


In case you missed it in my tone above – I did not enjoy this book. It felt a lot like a waste of time. The author spends a long time hating on her various family members who she has determined have done bad things – despite repeatedly acknowledging she doesn’t have any facts. Then, at the very end when she does have facts, she becomes somewhat introspective and dwells on the time she spent misjudging her family.

The fact that this woman managed to write this ‘story’ into a 300-page book, have it published and sold, and then reviewed by the UK Sunday Times (who, for the record, called it ‘a masterpiece’) is really a testament that anyone can write a book.

The bitterness that the author carries through the book – with no evidence to support that emotion – is exhausting. She repeatedly reminds the reader how little she knows, and yet presses on with her judgments regardless.

The seemingly random additions of art commentary do not fit to me with the book at all. Other than her parents being artists, the commentary did not add anything to the memoir, and if anything, drew me out of the mother’s story. More interesting would have been some additional stories told of women in the area who had similar experiences to her mother’s. I won’t tell you what those experiences are – you can waste five days reading the book also to find out the anticlimactic ending.

I recently read Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan, and that was a much better (still British) read if you’re in the mood.

Rating Five Days Gone

A very iffy three stars on this one. Honestly, I would give it two stars. But the writing was very nice and there was nothing glaring or unpleasant about the book.

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