The Forgotten Garden is a Sweep-You-Away Fantasy of Historical Fiction
A rich, engrossing story that sweeps across half the world and a full century, The Forgotten Garden’s dark secrets will keep you turning pages right up to the satisfying final moment when the heart of the maze is revealed.
If your best-loved books have been collections of traditional fairy tales, the Charles Dickens canon, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, even the gothic romance-suspense novels of Mary Stewart – and in childhood, perhaps, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s magical The Secret Garden – you’ll find it hard to resist The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.
A Recommended Read
An unforgettable novel that transports the reader from the back alleys of poverty of pre-First World War London to the shores of colonial Australia, and back to the windswept coast of Cornwall, England, past and present… This is a novel of outer and inner journeys, and an homage to the power of storytelling. The Forgotten Garden is filled with unforgettable characters who weave their way through its spellbinding plot to astounding effect.
Secrets, Stories and Self-Discovery: Plot Summary of The Forgotten Garden
The Forgotten Garden opens in London, 1913. A small child is crouched behind a barrel on the deck of a ship. She is hiding, waiting for the return of the mysterious Authoress who brought the child here and warned her to keep her name a secret.
It was a game they were playing, she and the lady.”
But when the ship sets sail, the little girl is still unclaimed – just four years old, all alone, and bound for Australia – with nothing but a tiny white suitcase and a beautiful book of fairy tales.
Brisbane, 1930: On her twenty-first birthday, Nell Andrews learns that she is not the natural child of the dockmaster and his wife who raised her, but an unknown foundling, a child with no name and no past. It’s a devastating discovery.
The bottom fell out of her world and the person she had been vanished in an instant.”
So begins Nell’s quest to unravel the secrets of her past, and find her true identity.
The roots of the mystery go back to Blackhurst Manor, Cornwall, 1907. All the characters of Gothic novels drift through this dramatic landscape: the wicked witch, the pale princess confined to a tower, the wise old countryman, the dashing stranger…
Then again it’s Brisbane, 2005, among the eccentric characters of the antiques market where Nell has made her home… then back in time to London, 1900, into the brutish streets and dingy dark attics of the dockside warrens of poverty, where two orphaned children scrabble to survive and evade The Bad Man.
Finally, the weaving through time and across storylines brings us into the present. We kneel beside Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra as she tears with both hands at the brambles that hide the walled garden of the Authoress, forgotten beyond the maze that divides Cliff Cottage from the brooding manor house – as she confronts her own inner demons of grief, guilt and loss, and conquers them in completing her grandmother’s quest.
Oh, most certainly!
Yes, but not in a conventional way – this is a novel more about one’s relationship with oneself and within the world than it is about the dynamics between two romantic partners.
I will admit that I am not normally a fan of books that jump about in time to this extent, or that move across two, three, four generations with near-equal attention to the characters of each period. That’s because it is so seldom well done; in an effort to make us care about every character in a “sweeping family saga,” too often an author succeeds only in robbing them all.
But The Forgotten Garden is an exception.
Kate Morton handles her novel’s complex timelines and interwoven stories with nothing short of brilliant dexterity. The pace never slackens, and there’s seldom a moment when the reader’s interest wanes. I burned more than one dinner, I’ll confess, while caught up in reading this book!
The Forgotten Garden is not a perfectly crafted story – one or two niggling loose ends, a jump in logic here and there – but given its complexity, it shows an unusually deft hand with plot. And there’s not a one-dimensional character in the lot. Surrender yourself to the slightly surreal world that Morton’s created, and the reward is pure page-turning pleasure! In other words, I thoroughly enjoyed The Forgotten Garden, perhaps even more than Kate Morton’s other novels.
About the Author
Kate Morton is an Australian author, born in 1976, who studied dramatic arts before realizing that her heart was in words rather than on the stage. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, Davin Patterson, and their two sons, Oliver and Louis – “more precious than all the spun gold in Fairyland” – to whom The Forgotten Garden is dedicated.
A New York Times bestseller, The Forgotten Garden is Morton’s second novel, first published in Australia in 2008 and internationally in 2009.
Video: Kate Morton Talks About Her Book, The Forgotten Garden
Other Novels by Kate Morton
Kate Morton’s debut novel, The House at Riverton, (2006) another extraordinary and complex tale of secrets and self-discovery, also appeared on the NYT bestseller list. It also appears under an alternate title, The Shifting Fog. The Forgotten Garden followed. Morton’s third novel, The Distant Hours, was published in 2010.
The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog)
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
The House at Riverton is a gorgeous debut novel set in England between the wars. It is the story of an aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death and a way of life that vanished forever, told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all and kept a secret for decades.
To me, The House at Riverton was very much a first novel – full of promise, but not as fully realized as The Forgotten Garden and slightly disappointing in a way that I still can’t quite put my finger on. I love the setting (England in Edwardian/First World War era) and the characters are quite likeable, but the author’s inexperience showed in the pace.
A leisurely read has its place, but we like to feel that there’s a strong current running beneath the surface and driving on the plot, and the The House at Riverton was not – for me – as compelling in this regard as The Forgotten Garden.
The Distant Hours
A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, stately home of the Blythe spinsters, where her mother had stayed as a 13 year old child during WW II. Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst…
Have you read Kate Morton’s third novel? I can’t tell you anything much about The Distant Hours as I haven’t yet dipped into this one. It is on my bedside table now, though, and next up on my reading list! But if you are ahead of me and you have read it already, please drop a note (below) and let me know what you thought of the book. Will I enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed reading The Forgotten Garden, do you think?
If You Liked The Forgotten Garden, You Might Also Enjoy…
Here are more fabulous fast-paced but richly detailed novels in the same vein. In all of these, the main character is a female writer who stumbles into mysteries and secrets from the long-ago that will impact her own life in future. If you enjoy a good story, well written and with intriguing characters, that melds the past and the present in a finely crafted plot with a touch of the romantic and Gothic, you might want to put one of these books on your reading list.
The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
A romantic mystery that will carry you along from the first pages, as Emily Wilson, a young writer, discovers an old diary from 1943 that reveals long-buried secrets that could change Emily’s own life forever.
The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley
A best-selling author dives into research for her next book – on the 1708 story of a nearly-successful Jacobite attempt at restoration of the Stewart dynasty to the Scottish throne – but what she discovers is much more than dusty history, as her investigations uncover a secret of devastating betrayal in her family’s past.
Have I managed to pique your interest in reading The Forgotten Garden? Is there another sweeping novel of historical fiction you’d like to recommend to Kate Morton fans? Please drop a note in the comments, below, to share your recommendations for must-read historical fiction.
Featured photograph: Lost Gardens of Heligan by Hannah Hawke [CC BY-SA 2.0] on Flickr; Book Covers courtesy of their respective publishers, via Amazon.com.