Elspeth Sandys' searing and amusing memoir, WHAT LIES BENEATH was number eight in the New Zealand charts this weekend, having just been published by Otago University Press.
Elspeth was born during the Second World War, the result of a brief encounter between two people who would never meet again. The first nine months of her life were spent in the Truby King Karitane Hospital in Dunedin, where she was known by her birth name, Frances Hilton James. This would change with her adoption into the Somerville family. A new birth certificate was issued and Frances James became Elspeth Sandilands Somerville.
Tom and Alice Somerville, Elspeth’s new parents, lived with their son John in Dunedin’s Andersons Bay. While Elspeth was happy among the ebullient and welcoming Somerville clan, she had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother, who was frequently hospitalised with mental health problems.
Elspeth’s search for her birth parents did not begin until much later in her adult life. What she discovered after an exhaustive search provided answers that were both disturbing and, ultimately, rewarding.