Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: The Forgotten Garden

Something about this time of year makes me want fairytales. Maybe because I was reading The Children's Book this time last year, and it fit so well with the usual November weather. I've been wanting to read about Victorian England, fairtyales, mythology, nature, art, families, history.... And then I realized that I had just the book sitting on my desk, waiting to be read.

The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton, is about the mysteries within families, the difficulties of knowing who you are, and gardens. On the night of her 21st birthday, Nell Andrews is told she isn't who she thinks she is--her parents are not her parents and her sisters not her sisters. Her name isn't even really Nell. When she was four years old, in 1913, she was found sitting alone on the wharf in Maryborough, Australia, with nothing but a child's suitcase, and no memories of where she came from. In the suitcase is a book off fairytales written by a woman called Eliza Makepeace. Many years later, in 1975, Nell finally goes to England in search of her family. Eliza Makepeace is her only clue, and she leads the way to Blackhurst Manor in Cornwall and the mysteries of the Mountrachet family. But Nell isn't able to solve the puzzle, and it's not until she dies and her granddaughter Cassandra takes up the search that the mystery is unraveled.

The book follows three time periods, more or less. There's Nell in 1975, Eliza Makepeace in her childhood, and Cassandra in 2005. Characters often weave between these times, popping up again, still keeping secrets that have lasted decades. If the title has the ring of The Secret Garden, there's reason. Frances Hodgson Burnett even makes an appearance, and I think the book is meant to be a bit of a homage to children's books like it. The book itself, however, is certainly not a children's book.

One theme in the book I found particularly interesting was that of obsession, almost to the point of madness. It seems to run in the Mountrachet family. They want things they can't have and they'll go to rather frightening lengths to get them, even when having them isn't really perfect. It was rather frightening and definitely not quite sane, the way two characters in particular want things and can't give them up, and it's their attempts to get these things that really causes the drama of the book. And though they're not quite sane, you never feel like this is unrealistic, which makes it even creepier. It's actually quite a tragic book--so many of the characters are victims of circumstance.

I'll admit I was about 100 pages ahead of the plot the whole time. I knew it was inevitable who Nell's mother was going to turn out to be, way before Cassandra did. I think my trouble with plotlines like this is that it's how I would write it so I always know how it's going to turn out. Of course, this didn't really kill my desire to finish the book and find out how it all went down. This is a long book--550 pages--which involves a lot of interwoven plots and clues and characters, and though it's perfectly easy to follow, I'm sure it took some doing to write.

It's a lovely book--eerie and magical and historical. It's not deep or dense in the way The Children's Book is, but it does touch on some similar themes and have a similar mood. It's a children's book for grownups, in a way, and that makes it extremely satisfying.

1 comment:

melissa said...

Just began reading Kate Morton's newest, 'The Distant Hours', and it's wonderful. I enjoyed 'The Forgotten Garden' and know what you're talking about in terms of having it figured out.

Hope this one has lots of surprises. :)

Btw, love your blog...have been visiting here awhile, and always enjoy your posts.


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