The lady would be back, she’d said so, but the little girl hoped it would be soon….She listened for the lady’s skirts, swishing against the wooden deck. Her heels clipping, hurrying, always hurrying, in a way the little girl’s own mamma never did. The little girl wondered, in the vague, unconcerned manner of much-loved children, where Mamma was. When she would be coming. And she wondered about the lady.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is like the secret garden at the heart of its story – alluring, enigmatic, innocent but full of deception as well. In 1913, a young girl is found alone on a ship that has landed in Maryborough in Australia. The only possessions she has are a small suitcase with odds and ends and a beautifully-illustrated book of fairy tales by Eliza Makepeace. The dock master and his wife are unable to have children, so he takes her in, never letting on that she isn’t his own until she is an adult, and it’s a decision he will regret for the rest of his life as it leaves Nell unsettled and restless, wanting to find out why she was abandoned in a strange land.
Years later, Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra picks up the trail after an odd inheritance leaves her full of questions. Cassandra, whose own childhood is very similar to Nell’s own. Cassandra, who has endured tragedy and is fragile. Echoing her grandmother’s footsteps, she tries to find out the secret of Nell’s parentage, all while healing her own wounds.
The Forgotten Garden weaves together the stories of three women: Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra. Each broken and hurting yet strong and stubborn. The narration switches between each woman, and though at first, it seems like quite a lot of jumping around, by the end of this tale, I was sorry to see each woman’s chapter go by but aching to see how the story would play out. Because in its own way, The Forgotten Garden is a fairy tale, just like all the tales in the book that remains so integral to the plot. In a real fairy tale, the tales of the Brothers Grimm, there are no happy endings without the expense of someone else’s bliss.
The desire for happiness in and of itself can wreak havoc on a life, and Morton plays this out in idyllic scenes laced with dark and bitter secrets, exposing the rottenness that lies beneath those areas of our lives we strive to remain hidden and forgotten.
My mom and Matt from A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook are the only reasons I read this book, and I am so incredibly glad I did. As Matt mentions in his review, The Forgotten Garden is, at its heart, a mystery. The crafting of this story and its central question of the validity of maternal love is what drew me in and held me transfixed.
This seems to be a much-loved book on the Internet. If you’ve read it, why is it a favorite? The writing? The story? Every last bit of it?