First published in 2008
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Short Of It:
What a wonderful, immersive story! I recommend it for any reader who enjoys historical fiction.
The Long Of It:
I finished "The Forgotten Garden" several days ago, but the intriguing, fairy tale-tinged story is still lingering in my mind.
It's a complex, well-plotted book that's part historical fiction, part family mystery, part atmospheric English country tale, part character study, part making peace with the past and small part romance. And perhaps its best facet is that it's part fairy tale -- there are actually two wonderfully whimsical short stories tucked into the novel, and they play an important role in the book as a whole.
The novel features multiple points of view, settings and time periods, but the first and most important protagonists we meet are Australians Nell and her adult granddaughter Cassandra, both of whom are unable to come to terms with events that have thrown their lives off-kilter. For Cassandra, it's her husband's tragic early death. And for Nell it's a long-buried secret about her origins that she's never been able to overcome. After Nell passes away, leaving Cassandra a mysterious cottage on the Cornwall coast, Cassandra sets out to finish solving the fascinating puzzle of her grandmother's past, something Nell herself was never able to do -- though she did try.
While Nell, in 1975, and Cassranda, in 2005, journey to England in search of answers, they are slowly revealed to the reader through alternating chapters set in early 1900s London and Cornwall -- particularly at Blackhurst Manor, a seemingly idyllic country estate, complete with hedge maze, stunning gardens and shingle beach, that's really anything but. I especially enjoyed these immersive historical fiction chapters -- and they're where we meet fragile, sweet Rose Mountrachet and her adventurous, independent cousin Eliza, the Authoress -- my favorite character.
Each woman's dynamic tale -- invariably full of heartache, bitterness, grief, love and joy -- converges to reveal the truth Nell sought for so much of her life. Time has long ago passed for the other characters to find happiness, but it's not too late for Cassandra. Nell's mystery, the dilapidated Cornish seaside cottage, and the colorful cast of characters who help her along the way may prove to be just what she needs to finally move on -- a legacy Nell, Rose and Eliza would all be proud of.
My only real gripe about "The Forgotten Garden" is that it was sometimes difficult to juggle all the different characters and time periods. Occasionally I would forget if I was reading about Cassandra's trip to Cornwall or her grandmother's 30 years earlier, and the organization wasn't entirely chronological. Otherwise, I found the novel to be well-written, wonderfully engaging, creatively composed and extraordinarily difficult to put down once I got into the story.
Kate Morton was already solidly on my list of favorite authors before I read "The Forgotten Garden," one of her older novels, but now I love her even more. I've read and enjoyed "The Secret Keeper," "The Lake House," and now this wonderful novel, and I recommend all of them. I'm looking forward to the other two books of Morton's I haven't read, "The House at Riverton" and "The Distant Hours," as well as the sixth novel on which she's currently working! (P.S. Kate has a great Instagram account where she posts all kinds of atmospheric pictures of English cottages and such.)