What Secrets Hide in The Forgotten Garden?
It's 1913 Australia. Imagine finding a beautiful four year-old girl on the docks, her only company a little white suitcase. Such a dilemma faces a dockmaster and his wife, who take in young "Nell" and raise her, not sharing the contents of that suitcase with her until she becomes an adult. Inside is an illustrated book of fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace, a clue to Nell's past in England.
I love stories that bounce from one era to another, and Kate Morton seamlessly weaves fraying threads in 1900, 1975, and 2005. Who is Nell's true family? The mystery begins in 1900 with Eliza Makepeace, the daughter of a high-society woman who ran away from her wealthy family to marry the man of her dreams. Eliza lives in squalor but the Mountrachets, her mother's family, eventually find her and take her to their estate to care for their sickly daughter Rose.
Eliza was my favorite character. She's clever, creative, and so giving despite all the hardships she's endured. She is a tragic soul.
In 1975 an older Nell sets off for England in search of her past. This is the shortest thread.
In 2005 Nell is dying, and her granddaughter Cassandra learns about her grandmother's mysterious arrival to Australia. There's a heap of tragedy in this story, and poor Cassandra has lost her husband and son. Her search for answers about her grandmother's identity turns out to be key for Cassandra's own healing.
Kate Morton uses lovely descriptions and metaphors that left me a bit jealous of her writing ability. At one point Nell has to inform Cassandra of the deaths of her family:
"Nell had taken Cassandra home with her. It was better back at Nell’s; the ghosts weren’t as comfortable there. Nell’s place had its own set and the ones Cassandra brought didn’t have quite the same free run” (p. 201).
Then young Eliza tells the gardener “With a strong enough will, even the weak can wield great power” (p. 212). Indeed! Miss Eliza’s will is one of iron and steel.
And here’s a quotable quote: “Memory is a cruel mistress with whom we all must learn to dance” (p.446).
At times I was quite engrossed in the story, but with 550 pages there were a few spots where the pacing lagged a bit. I also didn’t quite understand the point of the lecherous Linus Mountrachet, leading me to believe the story was headed in a squicky direction (that fortunately didn’t materialize).
The ending was satisfying and the story is well worth the time invested to read it. I’m glad my book club chose this novel.