Kate Morton The Forgotten Garden is one of those rare books that don’t simply get read—they get devoured. Stuffed with mystery, tragedy, and romance, along with atmospheric settings and a large cast of complex characters, Morton’s book manages to balance many elements that weave an engaging tale for the reader.
This story is bursting at the seam with characters, but I never got confused because each character—no matter how small they seem—has their own unique voice and presence. Morton especially excels in creating rich, dynamic personalities for her main characters. Cassandra is the reader’s modern guide, attempting to uncover the mysterious past of her late grandmother, Nell, while also unconsciously forging her own path. Readers are exposed to the many sides of Nell, who learned that the family she knew her whole life wasn’t linked to her biologically and that her real origins were unknown. Then buried in the past we find Eliza and Rose, two cousins with a bond that makes them more like sisters, who both bear some sort of connection to Nell.
This story travels all throughout time, spanning from the year 1900 to 2005—but it’s not told chronologically. That might sound insanely disorienting, but I want to assure any wary readers out there that there is nothing to be afraid of. Each time period and each character point-of-view had its own unique feel, making it easy to slip from one POV to the next. With the main POVs being that of Cassandra, Nell, Eliza, and Rose, I would be hard-pressed to pick one as my favorite since all of these perspectives brought something new and interesting to the story.
There are many twists and turns along the way as both Nell and Cassandra try to figure out the true nature of Nell’s lineage. Some “surprises” are more predictable than others, I must admit, but you still have to keep reading in order to confirm your guesses. I wouldn’t call it a fast-paced novel, but I would never dream of classifying it as boring. The suspense of the novel is padded down with learning an extensive background on Eliza and Rose, understanding the bond between Cassandra and Nell, as well as gaining peeks into the lives of the other more lesser characters. These are all components that I appreciated, as the story just would have felt like it was missing something without all of this seemingly “extra” information.
If I had to pick just one thing that Morton does extremely well with her writing it would be how she brings the settings featured throughout the story to life. One can feel the warm, thick air in Austrailia, hear the busy, bustling streets of London, and see the magic that surrounds Cornwall, England. I have never laid my eyes on any of these locations, but I could picture them all so vividly with the way that Morton breathes life into her words.
I easily loved this novel, but if I were to voice one complaint, it would be that certain components seemed to lean towards the unrealistic. As beautiful as it is to see certain plot points match up and tie back to each other, a disgruntled voice in the back of my head couldn’t help but utter really? are you kidding me?! And even though I do stand by my claim that every character was thoughtfully created, some of the characters stood out to me as being too good to be true. Cassandra, in particular, seems to be bombarded with well-meaning, kind, and knowledgeable people that are, for some reason, utterly invested in her task of uncovering her grandmother’s lineage. I suppose there is a reason why this book is labeled as fiction, so perhaps I should learn to take in these aspects with a grain of salt.
Overall, The Forgotten Garden is a magical novel; it was as delightful as it was suspenseful. I truly did not want to put this book down because Morton is so careful to feed her readers little spoonfuls of information—enough so as to keep one partially satisfied but still craving more. I just thoroughly enjoyed watching the many beautifully executed components of this book unfold. This is a must-read specifically for those who are a fan of the historical fiction genre. (In which case, it may interest you to check out my master list of hist-fic recommendations for this year.)