The Forgotten Garden, written by: Kate Morton
While perusing the book section of the Salvation Army — my favorite trove to unearth new-old treasures — I glimpsed the binding of this book. I’m something of a font connoisseur, though I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly to call my hand in or away; something elusive, androgynous. Overly feminine scrawl makes my nose wrinkle and I can spot a James Patterson novel ten feet away.
Next I turn to the cover and wait for a moment. It doesn’t need to be grand or even familiar. I’m looking for recognition, something about the experience being offered; not in the way of plot, but of rhythm and weight. Truth be told, more often than not it IS the cover to reel me in — not the synopsis. The artwork is lovely and resulted in being more than enough to call me inside and meet her cast. However, having foresight, I now feel as though the imagery doesn’t encapsulate the magnitude of the story within. Too soft, obvious, and tame. I think something darker and suggestive might have done better to suit this one.
* First, there is no correlation between this book and “The Secret Garden.” This was my assumption picking it up, so I just wanted to clear that up in case you were thinking the same thing.
I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
My two favorite elements are Kate’s syntax and her decadent descriptions. I was lulled by the beautiful language and dazzled at the way she brought me front and center before the person, place, or thing. For those who really enjoy using their imagination — putting clothes, expressions, and moods into the pages — I’m not sure this is the book for you. Essentially, the writing is as much the story as the content, if not more.
The book seeks to solve a mystery, of a child left abandoned on a dock after her ship makes port. There is no one to claim her and so she is taken home by the dock master, and along with his wife she is raised as one his own until her 21st birthday, when she is told the truth about her beginnings. This information is shattering and she is never the same from then on, ruined by abandonment and haunted by a ruthless question: how might one have an identity without roots? From there the story webs and we are introduced to two separate time-periods and their respective characters, each time meeting a relative of the original child. The more we learn of the past events, the closer we come to discovering a dark secret. As the story plays out, bits and pieces of the mystery are revealed until at last the truth is made known.
No stranger to long novels, The Forgotten Garden holds her own at 549 pages, traveling back and forth between a century and two continents, England and Australia. And I must give credit where it is due. Anytime the author intends to take the reader through multiple decades, pausing to build a story and then moving backward or forward, there is always the chance of losing the reader en route. For frequent migration to be pleasant, the reader must be left wanting more at both the departure and the landing. If not the in between time begins to feel like effort — the work in order to get back to “the good stuff.” While I did take on a particular fondness for certain periods and characters, I never felt as though my interest was delayed. Nell, Cassandra, and Eliza — these are the names of the women know well by book’s end. They are different, yet the tie that binds them is a steadfast at times stubborn love for the people in their lives. Each must risk and often suffer for that love, proving that occasionally love does not conquer over all; at least not the way we want it to. What kept me moving — for I am not one to wallow or despair for long; there’s too much of that in RL to have to deal with it in fiction! — was an integrity in each woman I couldn’t help but admire. I liked them. I could have been friends with all of them.
Mixed in throughout are the most lovely fairytales, sweet bonuses of being privy to an author’s author, a one Eliza Makepeace. Now I am considering writing my own collection of fairytales, and this is how I know Kate did her job beautifully!
I can’t say I was surprised by the ending, nor can I say it was expected. What I mean to say is that I had inklings, many of which were correct, but things were never as simple as right or wrong. Kate weaves a complicated beauty of a tale, conditioning a pleasant roundness that, upon finishing a story complex by nature, leaves the reader feeling whole at last. There is, I should say, a gloomy pallor that never quite lifts, suffusing even inherently happy moments in sorrowful overcast; but perhaps this adds a nice layer of symmetry, as the story takes place in soggy London and the wave-spattered Cliff Cottage.