Tuesday, July 5, 2011

the Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Historical Fiction Review

Washington Square Press,  A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (originally published in 2008 by Allen & Unwin, Australia), Published 2010 in the US, ISBN 978-1-4165-5054-9; ISBN 978-1-4165-5055-6 (pbk); ISBN 978-1-4165-7206-0 (ebook).

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton defies definition by genre; however, as the majority of events in the novel take place in the early 1900's, I am taking the liberty of categorizing it as a historical novel.  It is just such a darn good read that it would be a shame for historical fiction buffs to bypass it.

The Forgotten Garden is a generational novel that travels though the lives of a great-grandmother, grandmother and great-granddaughter.  It commences with the mystery of a little girl who is placed on a ship to Australia in 1913 by a lady whom she knows only as the "Authoress".  The Authoress disappears immediately after hiding the child aboard ship and is never seen again.

A dockworker discovers the waif roaming the docks in Australia carrying a small white suitcase.  He decides to bring her home intending to locate the child's family.  As years pass by, the child, Nell, becomes part of the dockworker's family.  At 21 years old, she is engaged and ready to embark on a new chapter in her life.

The dockworker, feeling a heavy moral obligation to tell Nell the truth of her origins, takes Nell aside at her 21st birthday party and relates how she came to be regarded as a family member.  Nell is shattered.  Everything she thought she was and who she felt she was is destroyed.

Nell calls off her engagement and moves to a small oceanside village, where she becomes the village curiosity with her eccentric habits.  The urge to discover who her real parents were overcomes her in the 1970's and, through clues, in particular, a fairytale book, contained in the little white suitcase, she travels to England to  unravel her enigmatic past.

Whilst in England, she is unable to completely unearth her ancestors' identities, but purchases a small cottage in the Cornwall that has a secret garden where she has a flash memories of being with the Authoress and her papa.

Fully intending to return permanently to England after she wraps up her affairs in Australia, Nell's plans are foiled when her dissolute daughter drops off Nell's granddaughter, Cassandra, for a "short stay" and never returns.

Nell raises Cassandra and, upon Nell's death, Cassandra inherits Nell's estate, which includes the tiny white suitcase.  Cassandra has recently lost her husband and young son in a car accident and makes a spontaneous decision to travel to England to attempt to finally resolve the riddle of Nell's parents.

With the assistance of Nell's notes from her visit to England, the fairytale book and local characters, Cassandra begins to penetrate Nell's history.

Kate Morton easily takes the reader from England to Australia and back to England seamlessly through the eyes of the focal protagonists.

This book started out as my "car book".  I always keep a novel in the car for when I have to wait at appointments.  I became so involved in the story, the book came into the house where I could not put it down.

I have already purchased Kate Morton's The House at Riverton, which is written in somewhat the same vein.  I hope to enjoy it as much as The Forgotten Garden.

Rating:  4 Stars **** (excellent)

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