Summary courtesy of Goodreads:
Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra’s life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family. Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace – the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century – Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself. A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. [… a] story of the past, secrets, family and memory from the international best-selling author Kate Morton.
This book chips away at my summer reading list and I have to admit, although the story is not all that new – it reminds of Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman a book I reviewed a while ago – it did keep me intrigued. And, despite its length, I finished it rather quickly.
**few small spoilers throughout**
I feel like the summary does not provide enough detail about the scope and range of the book. Although the summary focuses on Cassandra, I felt like the plot was more about the mystery Cassandra was solving – the origin of her grandmother. We learn early in the novel that Nell, Cassandra’s grandmother, was found at the age of four in Australia. She has no memory of being lost and was raised believing she was in the midst of her biological family. At the age of 21, her father reveals the truth and this turns Nell’s world upside-down. She essentially rejects all things and people that are familiar to her because she no longer feels a part of the world in which she grew up. I found this really strange, I mean I can understand being angry and wishing to uncover the truth about her parents – but to reject her only source of support and love seems rather odd.
Nell only uncovers part of the story, it seemed that she was put on a ship to Australia from Cornwall, England – we find this out also fairly early on…and it is up to Cassandra to solve the mystery for us. Why not Nell’s daughter, Leslie, you might wonder? Because Leslie essentially severs all ties with Nell and Cassandra for a man. Another strange action for a character to take and one that the author does not set up very well. Might as well have Leslie die as far as I’m concerned because I find it rather baffling that after Nell was distant with Leslie for most of her life, Leslie would turn around and abandon Cassandra altogether.
But, this just covers the surface of the novel. The other plot in this novel involves Cassandra’s ancestors. So the novel moves through time. It is 2005 for Cassandra, 1975 for Nell and 1908-1913 for the mysterious ancestors.
Morton does move seamlessly through the time periods and establishes a great cast of characters for each time period – but I found myself frustrated with each move. At times I felt like Morton had attempted too much and many, many things were left unearthed or only touched upon briefly. There were moments that I wished could be further explored, investigated and so I was left with questions. Perhaps this is an effect that Morton wished to created – no matter how much we might discover about our past and our ancestor’s lives, we can’t ever truly know who they were and what they felt and experienced every day. We can only piece clues together and fill in the rest with our imagination. As a reader, however, I didn’t like it.
Although Cassandra’s story was touching, it was the story that least interested me partly because it’s almost cliche – woman must reconstruct old house and in the process meets fabulous man and reconstructs own life. Seen it. Read it. Let’s try something different this time, shall we? Really, the only difference is that Cassandra is redoing the garden…the garden that holds all the secrets.
I almost wish each story had been told separately – perhaps in trilogy fashion. Each time period, 2005, 1975 and 1908, is so rich in plot that it could be its own novel.
I will say this, Morton’s writing is strong. It is clean, easy to follow and quite beautiful at times. There are some wonderful fairy tales inserted throughout, written by the Authoress, Eliza Makepeace, that are fun to read. The Forgotten Garden kept me entertained and it was fun to solve the mystery – which became quite evident early on (at least for me it did). Sometimes this was good because it was neat to see the characters figure it out. Most of the time it was annoying because I had to wait so long for them to figure it out.
I was left feeling very sad that I didn’t see Nell solving the mystery since it was so meaningful to her. And, once I discovered Nell’s story, I felt really let down that Morton did not give me more insight into the relationship between her parents and the feelings of her mother…there were many moments that I felt the book was long for all the wrong reasons and the questions I had were not answered. Despite these reactions, The Forgotten Garden is a good book, even though it wasn’t entirely satisfying.
Have you read any books lately that overall are good, but still left you feeling a bit let down?