Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Pan Books, 2008 [UK version]
645 pages

In 1913, a little girl is found abandoned at a dock in Australia after coming all the way from England on her own. One of the dock workers, whose wife is depressed from not being able to have children, takes the little girl home and they pretend she is their niece who just arrived from London. When people start asking questions, the couple abruptly moves to Brisbane, and they raise the girl as their own. Eventually she forgets that she has ever had any other life. But on her 21st birthday, the man she knows as her father tells her the truth: that she isn't theirs.

The young woman, known as Nell, feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under her and she is never quite able to have the same relationship with her "parents" and her "sisters" (who were born several years after she was taken in by the couple.) She marries an American, and moves to California, where she has a daughter of her own. They never quite get along, and when Nell's husband dies suddenly and she returns to Australia with the girl, their relationship just gets worse. Eventually, Nell's daughter moves out and has a daughter of her own named Cassandra, who comes to live with Nell when she is twelve after being "abandoned" by her mother for a new boyfriend.

Without going into too many more details, I'll say that many years later when Nell passes away, Cassandra inherits a cottage in Cornwall. When she travels there, she knows that she must solve the mystery that is Nell. Where did she come from? Who were her parents? Why did they abandon her?

The book is written so that every other chapter takes place during a different era, starting during Edwardian times and weaving together characters and unravelling mysteries. The story turns from Nell and Cassandra to first cousins Eliza and Rose. Rose is a little "princess" growing up in a Cornwall estate; Eliza, whose mother grew up in the same estate and was cast out for falling in love with a man far beneath her station, was orphaned at an early age and lived in horrible conditions. When the two girls finally meet, they form a close bond made tight by Eliza's amazing ability to write fairy tales. Oh, and there's this really cool garden . . .

I can't really describe too much more than this without giving away too many spoilers, but there you have the basic plot. This is a book about abandonment, love, and loss. The losses are massive and I can't help but be a little angry at the way some of the characters in the book just had one loss after another and yet they kept going. There was too much loss for me in this book. At times, I couldn't decide if Morton was trying to write a fantasy novel, a historical novel, or a romance. The last chapter about Cassandra was predictable and sappy, and I wasn't surprised by the "truth" when it was finally revealed. In fact, I knew it was coming before I was even a third of the way through the book.

Australian author Kate Morton has woven a good story, and the writing is better than average. For the first two-thirds, I enjoyed reading it. But I'm feeling angry about how some things turned out. Maybe I'm too used to happy endings? - perhaps.
P.S. I have decided to stop rating the books I read. I want to read something totally mindless now. Like a mystery. Or a paranormal romance. Just something that will take me away but not make me angry. Let's see which of the books on my shelf will call me next . . .