Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
I really enjoyed Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden. An abandoned four-year-old girl arrives in Australia in 1913; oh, doesn't that grab you from the start. She's been told not to tell anyone her name, and so when Hugh, the dock master, attempts to discover who has lost the child and where she belongs, he finds himself stymied. He takes her home and both he and his wife fall in love with the child, naming her Nell and raising her with love.
Eventually, on the eve of her engagement party, Hugh tells Nell the truth, and it changes her life. All she knew as truth is proven false. The mystery of her beginnings and her real family haunt her.
Moving to the present, Nell's granddaughter Cassandra discovers that Nell has left her a cottage in England. Cassandra realizes that, late in life, Nell had begun an attempt to discover her history and decides to go to England to see the cottage. Trying to unravel the mystery of Nell's parentage, she follows the diary Nell had kept during her own search.
This really is a fairy tale, and fairy tales are clues to the mystery of how the four-year-old Nell found herself alone on a long voyage to Australia. The characters are also like fairy tale characters, not fully developed, metaphorical, symbolic--you know them through intuition and archetypal memory. Your favorite fairy tales are incorporated and interwoven in many ways, and there are new fairy tales to consider. The book of fairy tales that crossed the ocean with Nell, tucked into her tiny suitcase, provides clues, both through the stories and the illustrations.
There are many secrets to uncover, and while the story isn't quite realistic-- like most fairy tales, there are kernels of truth hidden in the fantasy. You will realize much of the mystery before the characters do, and sometimes, you may feel like shaking them, but like Sleeping Beauty, characters past and present aren't always fully conscious. I loved all of the obvious and subtle fairy tale tropes.
One thing that bothered me, however, was the abruptness of the past, distant past, and present switches. I often like this technique of switching point of view and time and location, but these sections are not as smooth as they could have been. Another item that bothered me is the change that occurred in Nell on learning that she was "adopted" (although, informally) and letting that interfere with her relationships with a loving family.
Becoming lost in this fairy tale, if you accept the premise that the book itself is a fairy tale, is easy to do, however, and I have to admit that I found the overall idea enchanting.
Fairy tales, mystery, deception, betrayal, secret gardens, wicked stepmother figure, lost child, an homage to Victorian writers and illustrators and to several children's books...
I must re-read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a childhood favorite, that I've not read in years.
If you've read Morton's The Forgotten Garden, what did you think? If you've reviewed it, let me know, and I'll add a link: Kailana at The Written World
Fiction. Fairy tale/Mystery/Historical. 2008. 549 pages.