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The Forgotten Garden: A Novel Hardcover – April 7, 2009
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Amazon Exclusive: A Conversation with Author Kate Morton
Q: The Forgotten Garden has some marvelous parallels with Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, and Burnett even makes an appearance in your book as a guest at a garden party. Did her book inspire portions of your story?
A: The Secret Garden was one of my favourite books when I was a little girl. Along with stories like The Faraway Tree and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it's one of many classic childhood tales in which children escape from the adult world to a place in which their imagination is allowed free rein. However, it wasn't my intention to reference The Secret Garden when I first started writing.
In fact, The Forgotten Garden (which was called The Authoress until the final draft!) began with a family story: when she was 21, my grandmother's father told her that she wasn't his biological child. Nana was so deeply affected by this knowledge that she told no one until she was a very old lady and finally confided in her three daughters. When I learned Nana's secret, I was struck by how fragile a person's sense of self is and knew that one day I would write a story about someone who experienced a similar life-changing confession.
When I began to write about Nell, I knew that her mystery was going to lead her to an English cottage, but the other details were hazy. It was while I was auditioning English locations for my book that I came across mention of the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. My interest was piqued, and I began reading everything I could find about this place: a grand country estate with astounding gardens that had been locked and forgotten after its gardening staff were killed during the first world war and the owners moved away.
When it was rediscovered in the late 20th century, nature had reclaimed the estate, but the bones of the garden lay deep beneath the overgrowth. This story really fired my imagination and I knew that I'd not only found my location--Cornwall--but that I would also need a forgotten garden in my story!
I was also eager to play with 19th-century gothic conventions in The Forgotten Garden. I adore books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and I wanted a gloomy old house, wicked aunts, secretive servants, hidden identities, mysterious whisperings--the lot. But when my garden grew walls, I suddenly remembered The Secret Garden, and with my theme of fairy tales and storytellers and the vital role that such things play in a child's imagination, I couldn't resist introducing parallels (including a walk-on role for Frances Hodgson Burnett). It was a way of referencing my own childhood influences--Enid Blyton and the Famous Five get a couple of nods throughout, too!--and was a lot of fun.
Q: Both The Forgotten Garden and The House at Riverton, your first novel, celebrate the imaginative lives of children, and the role that books and family legends play in inspiring their creative life. Which books fired your imagination as a child? Do you think fairy tales play a role in preparing children for life's harsher realities, and giving them courage? As children spend more time being entertained--by TV and video games--and less time inventing their own entertainments and exploring the natural world, what are we losing?
A: I read voraciously as a child, and the more I write the more I realize that an essential part of my character (and certainly my inner writer) was formed in those early years. Enid Blyton was my first and my favourite (The Faraway Tree, The Enchanted Wood, The Secret Seven), sparking in me a lifetime love of English countryside, dark, creepy woods, and hidden mysteries. I also loved Anne of Green Gables, The Railway Children, Roald Dahl, and fairy tales of all description, and had a mighty impressive collection of second-hand Trixie Belden books (collected when my mum, an antique dealer, dragged us to second-hand shops with her).
I agree that fairy tales teach children about life's harsher realities. They are our society's fables and, in their true form, often contain messages that aren't easy to hear. There's something compelling about their simple (sometimes brutal) honesty though, and their heightened style creates a narrative distance that sets them apart from more realistic children's fiction so that the events depicted are understood to be taking place in a world that is not our own. I think we sometimes underestimate the ability of children to recognize and process intelligent concepts, and sort the literal from the fairy tale.
Q: Both of your first two novels leap between the present and past, with much of the story happening in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, in the lead-up to World War I. What fascinates you about that particular period?
A: The early decades of the 20th century fascinate me because they describe a moment of immense social, political, and cultural transition, and because change ignites conflict (on a large scale, as in the culminating war, but also on a much smaller inter-personal level), which makes it excellent fodder for a writer interested in stories about people. Sociocultural expectations of women and the lower classes were changed indelibly as a consequence of the first world war, so a person who was 18 in 1912 had a markedly different perception of their place in the world as compared to a person who was 18 in 1922.
I'm particularly interested in the way the past is tethered to the present: that is, I like to write about the past insofar as it is a place to which we are still connected in some way. I have a rather gothic insistence on the refusal of the past to remain dead and buried!
The literary gothic (particularly that of the 19th-century novel) is a genre for which I bear a special fondness. I wrote my masters on Tragedy in Victorian Novels and my PhD topic concerns the use of gothic tropes in contemporary fiction. My interest isn't so much in the supernatural aspects of the gothic (apparitions and the like) as much as metaphorical ghosts--the haunting of the present by the past; guilt; memory; identity issues; twins and doubles; the complicated ties of family; anxieties over technology, etc. I think the gothic resonates strongly in our technological time, not least in matters of identity. Computers and the surfacing of social networking sites have changed the way we represent ourselves and interact with other people; medical advances mean we are able to alter our appearances in ways we never could before; we are even beginning to manipulate genes and use science to aid and affect conception. This is all fertile ground for a fiction writer!
Q: Your next novel, The Distant Hours, will be set in World War II England. Can you reveal any other details?
A: Not a lot, I'm afraid--I'm superstitious about speaking too much about my people when their stories are still unfolding!--but here's a little tiny taste: The Distant Hours is set in 1940, during the period in which the English were worried that the Germans might land on the beaches any day. It takes place in a castle in Kent (with a medieval tower and a huge ancient wood!), where the unexpected arrival of a stranger causes ripples in the household that trigger a tragedy....
More About the Author
Kate grew up in the mountains of southeast Queensland and lives with her husband and young sons in Brisbane. She has degrees in dramatic art and English literature, specialising in 19th century tragedy and contemporary gothic novels.
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Top Customer Reviews
Nell is a foundling, and what a rare foundling she is. A stow-away on an ocean liner, she refuses to tell even so much as her name. Until in her 60s, over-protected by a loving foster father, she has no clue how she came to be alone on that dock. Hers is the mystery that unfolds in this long novel spanning more than a century, five generations, and two distant continents.
Enthusiastic fans of Kate Morton's first novel, "The House at Riverton," will thrill to her second, "The Forgotten Garden." Like her first, this is a novel whose female characters are finely and fully drawn, and whose males are wispy and insubstantial. How its women interact, how they love and hate one another, how their interplay moves through tragedy and redemption will provide hours of pleasure for her fans.
Morton's excellent pacing creates a page-turner that is hard to put down, although its length might give pause to those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Morton tells her story not only through the actions of her characters but also through fairy tales that work on several levels and provide clues to the mystery's final solution. Many readers will have guessed the solution long before the end of the book. Nevertheless, Morton maintains reader interest throughout.
Overall, this is a highly satisfying read. It's fun to watch the author weave the lives of women into a rich tapestry of life and love, anger and betrayal. However, the novel is not without its weaknesses. First, as mentioned above, Morton's male characters are weak and insipid and never come to life.Read more ›
At the heart of this big, fat tale (645 pages) is a mystery. In 1913, a dock master, Hugh, discovers a four-year-old girl who's been left alone on a wharf in Queensland, Australia after all passengers had disembarked from a boat that sailed from England. Taking pity on her, Hugh takes her home to his wife, Lil. In spite of Hugh's and Lil's efforts to find the girl's family, time passes and no one claims the tyke. Having hit her head while onboard the boat, the little girl couldn't even remember her own name and all she could recall was a woman she calls the Authoress who was supposed to sail with her. Hugh and Lil decide to keep her as their own and name her Nell.
In the present day, Nell's granddaughter, Cassandra, is grieving Nell's passing. As she goes through Nell's notebooks, she realizes that her grandmother had never stopped searching for her true parents. Cassie takes over the search, which leads her to England and to a small Cornish village, and finally, to a decrepit cottage and its walled garden...a garden that swallowed the secrets of the 1900s and buried within its grounds the fascinating and tragic story of the Mountrachets and the woman a child had called the Authoress.
A challenge to the reader will be the constant switching of perspective from past to present and in between, primarily the years of 1913, 1975 and 2005. It's a bit off-putting in the first few chapters but after awhile, it's no longer an encumbrance.Read more ›
The book opens in 1913, when a young girl with no name is found on a quayside in Australia. She doesn't remember anything about herself, and all she carries with her is a white suitcase containing, among other personal items, a book of fairytales penned by a woman the girl calls the Authoress.
In 1975, the girl, now a woman called Nell, goes back to England, where she attempts to find answers to questions about her identity. Her travels lead her to Blackhurst Manor, delving deep into the Mountrachet family's secrets and purchasing a cottage on the Blackhurst property. But before she can solve the mystery of her past, Nell's flaky daughter Lesley shows up, dumping her granddaughter Cassandra on her doorstep--permanently.
In 2005, after Nell's death, Cassandra inherits the cottage and tries to answer the questions her grandmother raised. The stories of these two women are complemented by that of Eliza Makepeace, who grew up in the slums of London around the turn of the nineteenth century, and her cousin, the genteel Rose Mountrachet.
This is clearly a novel written by a woman, for women, about women; the male characters take a backseat to the female ones, sometimes becoming unlikeable.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Amazing plot, interesting development of the story that entice the reader for more.Published 1 day ago by Cliente de Amazon
Kept my interest. Good story. It was sometimes hard to keep the characters straight since it jumped around in time a lot.Published 3 days ago by Mary F. Wathey
I loved it. The book was a very good read with compelling twists to the plot and a surprise ending. Read morePublished 4 days ago by josie
Because this is a three generation mystery, you are moving back and forth between three time periods and many characters are introduced. Read morePublished 4 days ago by Glenna
I truly loved this novel. From a manison in Cornwell England, to the slums of Paris, then to the Australian waterfront. Adventures abound surrounding these woman. Read morePublished 5 days ago by S. Gilbert