Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden - a book by Kate MortonThis was the second book I read by Kate Morton, after being impressed with her first novel The House at Riverton. It was even better – with a beautifully interwoven plot which moves seamlessly between three different time periods. Australian Cassandra, in 2005, attempts to discover what her deceased Grandmother (Nell) was up to, back in the 1970s, when she bought a ruined cottage thousands of miles away in Cornwall and, in doing so, she stumbles upon a compelling mystery that dates back to 1913.   

The basic premise is intriguing – the notion that a small child (Nell) can turn up on an Australian dockside, alone in 1913, with no idea of her own name and nothing to identify her but a child’s suitcase. What happens as she grows up? Will the memories begin to resurface as time goes on? The full story is not revealed until the end.

One of the key themes within the novel is the uncertain boundary between stories and truth. Nell remembers a mysterious lady – The Authoress, and a book of fairy tales is found within the suitcase. Some parts of the book re-tell these fairy tales in full, playing with the ideas of myth, memory and truth. Do the stories reflect the life of the writer? Are Nell’s memories real or is she imagining these things? This is all part of Nell’s continuing search for her true identity. She doesn’t know where she came from, and this distances her from her Australian family. She feels different, set apart, and cannot seem to rest until the mysteries of her past have been unravelled.

Fairytale - page in bookI found some aspects of the plot a little exaggerated, not quite as believable as the plot in Morton’s first novel. However, the fairy tale theme of the book provides a framework for something a little more mystical in the plot. As a reader, you sense that all is not quite as it seems, and that feeling grows as you move further and further into a dark, unsettling past. Morton’s description of Victorian London is Dickensian – a place where danger lurks around every corner, where children exist to be exploited, and where being female and poor is to be helpless at the mercy of others.

The novel also touches sympathetically on the effects of grief, as Cassandra gradually comes to terms, not only with Nell’s death, but also with the loss of her husband and child, years before. The ‘forgotten garden’ is symbolic in many ways, hiding within its walls both the original awful truth of what went wrong all those years ago, and also a kind of redemption for the future. As Cassandra attempts to restore the garden, she is able to begin to move forward at last.

This is a captivating read, exploring so many aspects of life that it is impossible to do it justice in a review. Highly recommended!

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