I have to hand it to Kate Morton for being able to drag out one secret for over 500 pages in The Forgotten Garden, and still keep it interesting.
On Nell’s 21st birthday, her father tells her that he actually found her left alone on a wharf as a little girl after a ship had disembarked all of its passengers from England. She held on to that secret, and didn’t do a thing about it until she was in her 60′s and her father died, leaving her the childhood suitcase that she had arrived with. She began to hunt for who she was and where she came from by using the only clue in her suitcase – an old book of fairy tales written by Eliza Makepeace. Her search takes her from Australia to England in 1975 to try to piece together her past. After her death, her granddaughter Cassandra takes the reins, and follows in her footsteps to finally get some answers (albiet a little too late for Nell).
The world was an awfully large place and it wasn’t easy to find a person who’d gone missing sixty years earlier, even if that person was oneself.
A lot of The Forgotten Garden is written from Cassandra’s point of view, but it does jump around quite a bit in perspective, as well as time and place. The story is told from several key angles:
- 2005, when Cassandra begins searching for her grandmother’s roots;
- 1975, when Nell travels to the place where she was born for some answers;
- 1913, the year that Nell sailed alone to Brisbane; and
- 1900, detailing Nell’s birth families’ lives.
Each time period is written in a similar style, and all are relevant and complete. Each character takes on a life of its own, and I really couldn’t pick one that I was interested in the most – they all had something of their own to offer.
There are many layers to the story of where Nell came from, and why she arrived in Australia alone. Each answer that is provided just brings more questions, which keeps the story lively and quick. Five generations are involved, and it is interesting to see the point of view of each.
To me, the family secrets weren’t all that sordid or shocking, and really didn’t require all of the build-up. Morton did begin to give away too much so that it was easy to guess the secret long before the end of the book. Then it just became a waiting game.
The Forgotten Garden is very PG-rated, and it really could have benefited from some edge or excitement. Reading about Cassandra and her eventual love interest was like watching two shy 12-year-olds rather than a 40-year-old woman who had already been married once. Everything in the book was too innocent and benign.
The fairy tale elements were quite cute, and I liked how they were mixed throughout. The Forgotten Garden was calm but entertaining, and I hadn’t read a mystery in a long, long time.