Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

GENRE: historical fiction/family saga

1913. On the eve of the First World War a little girl is found abandoned after a gruelling ocean voyage from England to Australia. All she can remember of the journey is that a mysterious woman she calls the Authoress had promised to look after her. But the Authoress has vanished without trace.
1975. Now an old lady, Nell travels to England to discover the truth about her parentage. Her quest leads her to Cornwall, and to a beautiful estate called Blackhurst Manor, which had been owned by the Mountrachet. Who has prompted Nell’s journey after all these years?
2005. On Nell’s death her granddaughter, Cassandra, comes into a surprise inheritance. Cliff Cottage, in the grounds of Blackhurst Manor, is notorious amongst the locals for the secrets it holds – secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is at Cliff Cottage, abandoned for years, and in its forgotten garden, that Cassandra will uncover the truth about the family and why the young Nell was abandoned all those decades before.

I absolutely loved reading this novel. I already loved Morton’s first novel, The House at Riverton, but The Forgotten Garden confirmed me as Morton’s big fan.

It seems that her theme is family drama, family secrets. Yet again, she invented a fascinating family, and an even more fascinating drama and secret that belong to the family. She covers three time periods: the early 20th century up until 1913, which is the basis for the story, as all the later periods and people were affected by this time – it’s when the Mountrachet family lived; the 70s, with Nell as an old woman trying to find her roots; and 2005, with Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra finding the last missing pieces of the entire family puzzle.

Nell was found lost on a dock after she disembarked the ship that brought her from England to Australia. She only had a few belongings with her, among them a book of fairytales by an English authoress, Eliza Makepeace. She always believed that the Authoress, as she knew the woman, was the key to solving the puzzle of her parentage and why she was abandoned. Nell was told she was adopted when she was in her late teens and that marked her for life. Before, she was a happy, cheerful girl, but after finding out the truth she changed entirely and I think the truth pretty much destroyed her life. This posed an important question to me as a reader: Should adopted children be told they were adopted, and if so, when is the best time to tell them, if ever? This is a very difficult question to answer, at least to me it is. I loved it that Morton pointed out this dilemma through Nell. The truth affected Nell in significant ways. She always felt lost, abandoned and without a purpose afterwards. She had problems with her vagabond daughter, but she got along with her granddaughter Cassandra, at least, whom she pretty much raised. I think that when her irresponsible daughter brought Cassandra to Nell, Nell saw herself in the abandoned child, so she made the best she could to make her feel less abandoned. I really loved how Morton dealt with the complicated relationships existing in Nell’s family, especially her relationships with her daughter and Cassandra. That was really remarkably done and entirely realistic and believable. Eventually, Cassandra finds the book by Eliza Makepeace and so, unknowingly, she becomes part of Nell’s secret.

Eliza Makepeace is such an incredible female character. She is so well described and so well dealt with that for a while, I really thought she was an actual English writer of fairytales. I even Googled her, but I found out that she really was just a figment of Morton’s wonderful imagination. The fairytales that Morton wrote in Eliza’s name are incredible. They are great fairytales and I wouldn’t mind the children I know reading them. In fact, I might tell my cousins’ children one of the fairytales next time they demand one. Also, the fairytales are beautiful allusions to the events and secrets regarding the Mountrachet family. If you read them carefully, you get the clues to the secret.

When Nell dies, sadly before she even discovers the truth about her parentage, Cassandra inherits her cottage in Cornwall. Cassandra had no idea Nell owned a cottage in England and since she loved Nell and was close to her, she wants to know why Nell owned Cliff Cottage. That sends Cassandra on a journey to Cornwall, England. She meets interesting locals who know a lot about the history of the family, but not everything. Cassandra must find clues, put together bits and pieces of several stories and find the conclusion. As she uncovers the big mystery of Nell’s parentage, you can just feel the suspense and how the secrecy builds up. I started to suspect the truth after a while, but still, I wasn’t sure, and when the truth came out eventually, it gave me a great cathartic feeling. What a great ending, really! It’s too bad that Nell missed it, she would have loved it, too.

I don’t know why, but to me, one of the best moments in the book is when Cassandra finally enters the garden connected to Cliff Cottage. The door to the garden is locked, like the secret, but once she entered the garden, it felt really amazing, especially knowing the story about the garden, about Eliza Makepeace and the tragic Mountrachet family. Eliza’s and the family’s story are really great and so well written, you cannot not love it. The whole idea of a garden behind a wall, hidden from the world, was very reminiscent of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but Morton still managed to make her version fresh and unique.

The characters are really well constructed, and so is the plot. The story is really amazing and I just can’t praise it enough. Morton’s writing style is very beautiful and engaging. This is the sort of novel I will return to in a few years’ time. I don’t re-read many books at all, so this novel is pretty special since it made it to my list of novels that deserve to be read at least twice. It questions the reader, and also provides the answers.



Jeanne C. said...

Great review, Miss! Can't wait to read this one!

Juliane said...

OMG! I so L♥VE this book! Kate Morton is one of the best authors in the world! :)

Great book!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@Jeanne: Thank you! I hope you like it.

@Juli: I know! Kate Morton is awesome!

BookQuoter said...

I loved this book. I am 3/4 into the House at Riverton. It's always so exciting to read the last 100 pages of a book.

Ordinary Reader said...

Thanks for the great review. This book is on my tbr shelf somewhere but tonight I'm pulling it out and moving it up. It sounds wonderful and you've done a lovely job of reviewing it.

Julie P said...

Loved your review! I am going to check out this author on Goodreads!

Dot said...

I loved this book too! The story totally drew you in, great review!

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Ooh, I absolutely loved this one too, it was a fantastic read!