Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Published April 2009 by Simon Schuster Adult
Source: I bought this one to read with the Omaha Bookworms

In 1913 a dockmaster, Hugh, discovers a little girl left on the dock in Australia, entirely alone and with nothing more than a small suitcase and a lovely book of fairy tales.  The man takes the little girl home when no one claims her and he and his wife raise her as their own and call her Nell. All the little girl can tell them is that she was with "The Authoress" and that she has been playing a game of hide-and-seek.

On Nell's twenty-first birthday, her adoptive parents tell her the truth and Nell's life is never the same; she spends the rest of it trying to solve the mystery of her identity.  The journey takes her to Blackhurst Manor and the Cornish coast of England. Nell returns to Australia to wrap up her life there before returning to England permanently, but things take a turn that prevents that from happening.  Nell's estranged daughter drops off her own daughter with Nell then takes off leaving the grandmother to raise a grandchild she barely knows.  Over time the two become close, but Nell never discloses her mysterious past nor the anything about the cottage she has purchased next to Blackhurst Manor.  It is not until Nell's death that all of this comes to light and Cassandra sets off to uncover her grandmother's first life and, perhaps, start a new one herself.

Morton weaves together three narratives to tell the story of Nell, moving between the turn of the 20th-century; 1975, when Nell was finally able to travel to England for the first time; and 2005, when Cassandra takes up her search.  There are a lot of characters to keep track of and with the constantly shifting narrative it was sometimes difficult to keep track of what was going on in the book.  I'm actually a big fan of shifting narratives where mysteries are involved and generally have no trouble with the idea of moving back and forth in time so none of that bothered me much.

What did bother me was the shifting idea of what a four-year-old could remember and how much an adult might remember from when she was that age.  The reader needs to buy into the idea that a four-year-old who has made that long a boat journey not only would not have been found but would never mention her own name or anything that might be a clue as to her identity. Then, when Nell is much older, the reader is expected to believe that a few clues will jar long, detailed memories.  There may be some for whom that is possible; but as someone who only has very fleeting memories of being that age, I just couldn't get past that. There were also some plot points that didn't work for me, I wasn't surprised by the big reveal toward the end of the book, and I felt that a good fifty pages could have been cut from the book. 

Still, despite all of those problems, I liked the book.  The essential mystery interested me and I liked many of the characters, particularly those from the earliest time frame.  As a book club selection, I'm hard pressed to say whether or not it was a good choice.  Only one person who made it to our meeting in the month that we read this had actually finished the book so we couldn't really discuss it.  My opinion is that while this is a pleasant enough book, it's not necessarily book-club worthy.


  1. I agree about the four-year-old thing. Although there were also sort of similar bizarre takes on memory in The Distant Hours by Morton, but it was still very much worth reading. But it makes me curious about Kate Morton herself and what aspect of her life has her include these odd views of memory that are potential deal-breakers in her novels!

  2. You have a good point about the four year old's memory. I didn't really pick up on that. I enjoyed the mystery of it all and the back and forth storylines.

    Kate Morton does try to do a lot with her stories and they can be a bit long but overall I do think she pulls it off quite well.

    I was going to try to suggest The Distant Hours to my bookclub for next year. We'll see!

  3. This sounds interesting. I guess it wouldn't be much of a book without embellishment of the details of memory; on the other hand, you have a good point.

  4. I haven't read this one; I did read The Distant Hours, though, which I quite enjoyed. I have The House at Riverton, but my sister chose The Forgotten Garden as one of her favorite reads of 2010, so I'll have to try that one too!

  5. I liked, but did not love The Forgotten Garden.

    Happy New Year Lisa.