I bought The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton two years ago and although I read until page 230, I gave up. There was something in the story that failed to catch my attention and I found the pace too slow. A month ago, too intrigued by The Distant Hours, also by Kate Morton, I decided to ask the publisher for the book, but silly me, I got the titles mixed up and ended up asking for The Forgotten Garden. So, after all, I decided to give it another try and I could not be happier I did.
A lost child …On the eve of the First World War, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her –but has disappeared without a trace.
A terrible secret …On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell Andrews learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.
A mysterious inheritance …On Nell’s death, her granddaughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold — secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.
First of all, I love that the story is narrated from three different points of view and times: the beginning of the 20th century, 1975 and 2005. It helps to build a much more complex story, where the reader needs to keep active and keep track of names, places and relationships. At first, I thought The Forgotten Garden was not a demanding story, but I was wrong: I found myself drawing a genealogical tree that I did have to look at a few times. And, not only is the story complex but so are the characters: three women that represent three very different times in the 20th century. I especially loved the 1900’s plot through a child’s eyes and I think Downton Abbey fans out there will too. If I miss something on the series it is a child’s point of view on the decadence of 19th century morals and manners and the tight social customs.
There is a clear intertextuality with other gothic stories, especially Jane Eyre and Rebecca, probably due to the Kate Morton’s special interest on the field: she is pursuing a PhD on the influence of the gothic genre on modern literature and I think her works are the perfect example of that influence. I appreciated the references, but at the same time, I could not but find Morton’s gothic a little bland compared to the original works. Instead of feeling scared, I felt sadness: for me, it was more Dickens’ social preoccupation with children than Brontë’s emotion. After all, Morton is a mother of two.
From a more academic point of view, I would label The Forgotten Garden a postmodernist work, highly influenced by 19th century narrative. The book has different points of view and interpretations because one can never offer a complete view on the matter, all three views complementing each other and enriching each other, just like families do. Past, present and future mix, never being what they seem (what was the present for my grandmother, is my past now) and helping to construct us as the always-chaning person we are.
Finally, the story is so realistic that after finishing the book, I decided to google the name of two the main characters that I thought could have definitely been real people. If you have read the book, I would love to know what you think of this!
So, I recommend The Forgotten Garden to every fan of gothic, 19th century fiction or Kate Morton’s books. However, do not try to rush into the story, let it caught you, little by little. This is a long book that deserves time to really get to know the characters and their lives.
You can learn more about The Forgotten Garden:
Kate Morton’s official website - Complete with her thoughts on the book and reading group questions.
Video: Kate Morton talking about the book.
Video: Kate on writing. In case you find Morton’s narrative as cozy and inspirational as I do.