A four-year-old girl waits alone on a dock in Australia for parents who never come. Her only possession? A tiny white suitcase containing no information about who she is or how she came to be abandoned.
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. Second, the love interest at the end of the book does not mesh with the rest of the work. It is almost as though an editor said, "You'd better add a little love story here," so Morton did.
The book's flaws, while mildly unsettling, are not serious enough to spoil a great read. If you enjoy long stories about generations of women, you will love "The Forgotten Garden."
I was a bit hesitant in picking up "The Forgotten Garden" by Kate Morton. After my disappointment with "The House at Riverton," I wasn't sure if I was willing to invest more time. Pleased to say that the story hooked me from the get-go, and though the book is longer than I thought necessary, it was altogether an entertaining read.
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. Though the main story is Nell's parentage, the novel is dense with stories of the characters whose lives intersect and create the environment upon which Nell's birth and subsequent abandonment hinges. There are also many incidental details that don't necessarily impact the story but are included nevertheless to bring alive the era being depicted and add realism to the backstories. Included, too, are fairy tales by the Authoress that serve as allegories of the truths secreted by the doomed Mountrachet family, a family that "wanted things they shouldn't or couldn't have" and destroyed lives with their avarice, entitlements and perversions.
It can be a grueling read at close to 700 pages but the mystery itself kept me reading and speculating. Clues are parceled out in small doses and it takes a very long time, almost the end, before one can put together a clear picture of Nell's history. That's a good decision on the author's part as otherwise, a reader's interest would likely wane quickly. As Cassie puts it, "the closer we get, the more tangled the web becomes."
The characters are, for the most part, very interesting, though a bit on the melodramatic side, but it's the kind of melodrama that befits the Victorian era and the early 1900s. Of particular note is the emerging technology of x-ray in the mid-1890s, the careless use of which put into motion a series of tragic events that would reverberate for over 100 years.
It's an enthralling read and, with patience from a reader, delivers very satisfactory answers. Stories about foundlings, secrets and Victorian women have been done hundreds of times in various iterations and can get tiresome fast if the core story is weak. Glad to say that no such error is committed in "The Forgotten Garden." The first few chapters pulled me in very quickly and I found myself compulsively on the same quest for the truth. The mystery has sturdy legs that don't weaken for the novel's entire duration.
The Forgotten Garden, the follow-up to The House at Riverton: A Novel (but by no means a sequel), is a muti-layered novel with complicated characters and a highly intriguing storyline. The story jumps back and forth in time, but rarely is the reader confused as to what's going on. I loved The House at Riverton, so as soon as I finished it, I went roight over and bought The Forgotten Garden from Amazon UK. Let me just say that I wasn't disappointed.
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. In fact, Linus Mountrachet is downright creepy, and Nathaniel West is a bit of a cad. The novel is punctuated here and there with some of Eliza's short stories, which provide wonderful little interludes, kind of like AS Byatt's Possession, in a way. Possession, mixed with a little bit of The Secret Garden. We're even introduced to Frances Hodgeson Burnett, suggesting that she might have received inspiration for The Secret Garden from Eliza and Rose's garden.
What I loved about this atmospheric, fairytale-like novel was that Morton tells the story of these different, but connected, women, but she doesn't give everything up right away. I tried to guess at the mystery many times, but ultimately my guesses were never correct. The characters are well developed, and although it takes a little while to get into the story, this is an excellent novel, filled with old houses and hidden gardens with secrets and surprises. It's also a novel about foreshadowing; even Cassandra's name suggests someone who can foretell the future. Aside from some too-fortuitous chances (for example, Eliza is rescued from poverty at the exact moment that she's about to be sent off to the workhouse), I found it really, really difficult to put this novel down, and only finished it reluctantly.
on April 8, 2009
The basic core story for this novel is very good, but the writer's treatment can be somewhat confusing. I found myself flipping back and forth to keep track of various characters and events. Without giving away too much (remember, readers, this is not supposed to be a book report or synopsis!) there are three generations of women, two of whom go back to England from Australia to figure out their origins and history. The author chose to skip around in the time line and while that in itself is a good plan, the style in which she does this can be somewhat confusing. The mystery is held together until the last but the interspersing of "fairy tales" into the mix and the fractured style of the timeline is all a bit overreaching and serve to weaken the story instead of making it stronger.
Overall, I felt this would be a good book for teenage girls to read as they would probably relate to the characters more than I could, being a 50 year old man. It is well written and the characters are very fleshed out and memorable, which is far more than I could say for many novels today. The writer's descriptions are cinematic in places and it's easy to see how this book might translate into a movie script. I just hope that if this were to happen, the filmmakers don't slice it up too much with a ton of flashbacks like the authoress here has done.
on July 11, 2009
Once in a while, you meet someone who seems distant, detached, shut. You, too, may keep yourself distant from this person, out of a sense that you cannot ever mean anything to that person, perhaps because you fear that someone could be around you and not want you close. You may even disdain the person for not wanting you to be intimate. This is a form of self preservation; it does not mean that you are right, or that the other is wrong.
I am a forty-one year old man, a former police officer. I have worked in jails and seen terrible things. Nothing hurts so much as seeing the pain of one you love. I love a character in this book. I wish I could tell you why, but then, that is my story, and you deserve yours. I sobbed as this book drew to a close, and I wailed in grief and joy, mixed so inextricably I could no longer separate the one from the other. Such is the slow, gentle way that this story tells itself, with hurting souls drifting in the magical wake of one whose suffering was never known fully, because she chose not to give her sorrow to those around her.
Do not read this book if you do not want to find out that fairy tales are only another way for us to understand truth, and that magic is real and only waiting for us to see it. Do not read this book if you prefer to judge early and regret late. Most importantly, do not read this book if you do not understand that the truest love may hurt more than any injury evil can do.
Once upon a time, we all knew what mattered. Kate Morton shows us someone who never forgot, a faerie queen trapped in mortal flesh, whose suffering for love transcends one's first judgment and whose commitment to what matters transcends one's regrets at having misunderstood. This book is a maze, and you should think about your heart before you step in. For those who do, look for the girl with the blazing hair and cerulean eyes. She will see you through, if you believe, for you won't be coming back unchanged, and faeries are real, just around the corner, in the garden.
on July 6, 2009
The Forgotten Garden reads more like a 552 page first draft than a finished novel. To be brief, the story is convoluted and the characters are one dimensional at best. Morton does a better job describing places and things than she does describing the inner workings of the human mind and human motivation. Ultimately, I'm glad that I finished this book--there were small portions that I really enjoyed. Kate has a lovely (if not long winded) way with words. I hope for her next book, the publisher hires someone to help make the story a little more cohesive.
on October 1, 2010
I read this to the end which I only do if a book keeps my attention. However overall I am challenged to say it's great fiction.
This story has elements that would challenge any writer. It's long (over 600 pages). It covers 4 generations and over 100 years. It wants to be gothic, modern and a fairy tale. It's a tragedy, a love story, a family feud and attempts at redemption. The result is an interesting story but inconsistent. The book seemingly focuses on one central character, Nell. But then it becomes much more a story of Eliza before ultimately settling on modern day Cassandra. As a reader I am investing in the central characters and this was hard to do here. The very frequent jumping around of time periods are largely unnecessary. If I were her editor I would have asked for one edition in linear format. It likely would lead to a shorter tighter story as I think there is some fluff here. And I don't think the reader loses anything. Some events can be moved around for dramatic effect but I just don't see what the benefit is to the reader for more; particularly as the main characters have almost no overlap.
There are seemingly insurmountable plot twists that unwind more easily than perhaps they should. Letters that show up at just the right time or old documents that are well preserved or other clues that seem to come to easily. In that sense unwinding the riddle seems a bit more unearned than I thought it should. I accept that there is supposed to be an air fantasy with each character having exaggerated emotions or actions and therefore I should suspend reality but I think there some areas where plausibility is too stretched. While there are elements of fantasy this is also trying to tell a very empathetic story of a woman who is alienated by information at a young age that she is not who she thought she was and how this sours her whole life. I see writing style conflict here that should be better resolved.
I found the ending to somewhat abandon the dark theme and lack of redemption which is prevalent for most of the story. As we neared the end I felt like I was being instructed to see that it all works out rather than being convinced.
on April 24, 2009
Part of The Forgotten Garden is reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett's, The Secret Garden published in 1911. An unwanted cousin finds herself at her uncle's manor house, where she develops a bond with a sickly and lonely cousin. The similarity between the two novels ends there.
Like Morton's, The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden shifts back and forth through time and attempts to solve a mystery that occured over a hundred years ago. The House at Riverton's mystery was the death of poet, Robbie Hunter. The mystery in this novel is why Ivory Walker, a four year old year old girl from a wealthy and aristocratic family, was abandoned and placed on a ship to Australia.
Ivory Walker grows up to be Nell. On her eighteenth birthday, her father revealed a secret which ended her life as she knew it - not only was Nell not his real daughter, neither he or his wife knew Nell's real identity. She was found on the docks when she was four years old. The only link to her past is a little white suitcase the child carried on her when she was found.
Cassandra, Nell's granddaughter, inherits the mystery surrounding her grandmother's lost identity. After the elderly Nell dies, Cassandra embarks on an adventure in the Cornish countryside in an attempt to put together the pieces of Nell's past. Crucial to the mystery is a childrens book author by the name of Eliza Makepeace, who Nell not only vaguely remembers was the last person she saw before she boarded the ship, but her little suitcase also contained a book written by the mysterious authoress.
I loved the way the author scattered subtle clues throughout the book. I guessed the big mystery long before it was revealed, but it didn't make the novel any less compelling. Ms Morton knows how to write a mystery that will grab you from the start.
The only gripe I have with The Forgotten Garden was the way the author jumped back and forth across generations. The story didn't transition as smoothly as in her previous book. In fact, the decade jumping was downright confusing at times. Still, I cannot bring myself to give this book any less than five stars. Ms Morton has proved herself a master storyteller. I will gladly pre-order any future books this author publishes.
on December 13, 2008
Kate Morton's second novel is a beautiful tale about three generations of women, all seeking to find themselves in some way. However, the main story is the search for Nell's parentage. The chapters alternate between different characters and times, however each is clearly marked at the start of the chapter and the same part of the storyline generally continues, just told by a different person.
Unlike The House at Riverton, I found that the writing style was very engaging and I wanted to keep reading right though until the end - it was a real page turner for me.
on May 2, 2014
I don't typically give much weight to reviewers who write reviews when they don't finish the book, but sadly I've become one of them. I've only made it 70% through.
I just closed it, and will not re-open it. Slow, slow, slow. Occasionally there are moments that tempt you to keep reading. (and this is why I gave it as much time as I did) -- Probably 10 pages of interesting stuff, for every 50 pages of mind numbing boredom. There is a promise that perhaps it'll be worth reading after all. Trust me, it's not.
Maybe all the ancestry.com aficionados will find it interesting, but frankly I could care less about the origins of this little girl. Four generations of woman, none of them the least bit interesting, or developed as characters. You'd be more entertained by walking up to a complete stranger, and asking them about their grandparents.
No clue as to how this has such a high rating. Big Fat Yawn