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Secrets and a walled-off garden from long ago

  • May 16, 2009
One of life's pleasures is sinking into a sprawling book like The Forgotten Garden: A Novel. Author Kate Morton weaves a story around the lives of three women in different time frames, linked by the mystery of a four-year-old girl arriving alone at an Australian port in 1913. The child has no name, no history that she can tell, nothing but a tiny suitcase with no hints to her identity. The child, Nell, is raised as his own by the dockmaster, having no idea until her 21st birthday about the mystery concealing her early life. When she is in her 60s some of the facts of her past are unexpectedly revealed to her but events keep her from pursuing her heritage.

Nell's granddaughter Cassandra, in her turn, learns of Nell's story; her quest for the truth takes her to Cornwall. Following her grandmother's footsteps, she finds clues to the long-dead stories that set this game in play. Family secrets abound, with each generation paying for the passions of the past. Morton delights the reader with an impossibly picturesque cliff setting, an abandoned cottage, a long-forgotten walled garden with secrets still whispering among the ancient trees and plants. Concealment, enclosure, and seclusion recur throughout, and the hidden places don't give up their secrets easily in this matryoshka doll of a book.

The comparison to Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1910 children's classic, The Secret Garden, must be mentioned. All that delights children in that story can be found in Morton's thoroughly grown-up saga.

The story is revealed a thin layer at a time, with foreshadowings that allow the reader to rush ahead to the truth--but do allow the author to set the pace. Morton takes the story back and forth to different characters and time frames, which can be confusing at first; my own preference would be for longer sections, less moving back and forth, and a slightly shorter book, though I can't point to a phrase that seems extraneous. The author chooses the pace and delivers a wonderful read. Great characters, though as noted by other reviewers, the men are less vividly created than the women; amazing sense of place; and a deft hand with her complex plot, which has only the slightest loss of focus in the modern parts of the story. Kate Morton is without a doubt a five-star novelist, and I'll be watching eagerly for her next book. Four stars for The Forgotten Garden; recommended.

Linda Bulger, 2009

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More The Forgotten Garden: A Novel reviews
review by . June 25, 2010
Kate Morton's second novel, The Forgotten Garden, tells of a family mystery that spans more than 100 years.  The book opens with a young girl waiting on a boat deck for the mysterious "Authoress" during Edwardian times.  As an adult, Nell tries to discover who she really is what happened to the Authoress.  However, life gets in the way of her search.  Until, 30 years later, after Nell's death her granddaughter picks up where her grandmother left off.   …
review by . May 27, 2010
Someone told me The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton was good. They were right. It's long--549 pages--but I found it impossible to put down. Starting in 1913 with a child playing on a London dock, moving to Australia where a present-day woman is haunted by her past, following a grandmother in the 1930s and an orphan in the 1900s, each seeking secret leads that will find or lose their families--the scenes move from London to Cornwall to Australia and even to America, with each location and time …
review by . August 17, 2009
The Forgotten Garden is a family saga, a captivating tale of three generations of women, each of whom was abandoned. First comes Nell, found alone at age 4, on a wharf in Australia, and adopted by the harbor master. Eliza, orphaned in London by the murder of her mother, is the center link. Finally there is Cassandra, deposited with her grandmother by a mother who never returned for her. Author Morton has fashioned her story around a pervasive mystery: who is Nell, who were her parents, and why was …
review by . August 11, 2009
Kate Morton admittedly loves the classic Gothic tales. In her second novel, "The Forgotten Garden," this Australian author attempts to treat her audience to a beloved melding of styles and themes, the likes of which have been tested successfully before in Bronte's Jane Eyre (Vintage Classics), Du Maurier's Rebecca and Victoria Holt's Mistress of Mellyn. Morton gives it the old college try and she creates an interesting albeit long and sometimes ironically tedious labyrinth of characters whose secrets …
review by . July 22, 2009
This story follows the lives of three women, set in three time frames (early 1900's, 1975 and 2005) but all linked together through a garden, on an estate in Cornwall. The story mostly revolves around Nell and the mystery of who she is, where she came from and how/why she ended up where she did. Nell was abound on a ship from England to Australia. She was found stranded on an Australian dock at the age of four. At that time, she was taken in by Hugh (who oversaw the dock) and was given a family …
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Linda Bulger ()
Ranked #150
When I love a book, I want to wave it in somebody's face and say "Look! Read this!" The internet was made for people like me, don't you think? The lunch.com crowd seems friendly enough...   … more
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Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: Like Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved classic The Secret Garden, Kate Morton'sThe Forgotten Gardentakes root in your imagination and grows into something enchanting--from a little girl with no memories left alone on a ship to Australia, to a fog-soaked London river bend where orphans comfort themselves with stories of Jack the Ripper, to a Cornish sea heaving against wind-whipped cliffs, crowned by an airless manor house where an overgrown hedge maze ends in the walled garden of a cottage left to rot. This hidden bit of earth revives barren hearts, while the mysterious Authoress's fairy tales (every bit as magical and sinister as Grimm's) whisper truths and ignite the imaginary lives of children. As Morton draws you through a thicket of secrets that spans generations, her story could cross into fairy tale territory if her characters weren't clothed in such complex flesh, their judgment blurred by the heady stench of emotions (envy, lust, pride, love) that furtively flourished in the glasshouse of Edwardian society. While most ache for a spotless mind's eternal sunshine, the Authoress meets the past as "a cruel mistress with whom we must all learn to dance," and her stories gift children with this vital muscle memory. --Mari Malcolm

Read an excerpt and the reading group guide forThe Forgotten Garden.
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ISBN-10: 1416550542
ISBN-13: 978-1416550549
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Atria, Washington Square Press
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