About three chapters into this book, I knew I was in for a treat. Morton has written a sprawling, meticulously plotted novel that spans decades, interweaves stories and is filled with good old-fashioned storytelling. It felt delicious to read … like slipping into a hot bath and settling in for a long soak. (Perhaps that is why it took me an unprecedented 10 days to read!)
The story—which alternates between three different time periods—deals with the issues of identity and family ties. The main story concerns a 4-year-old girl who is found alone on a dock in Australia—seemingly alone in the world after arriving on a ship from England. Adopted by the harbormaster after no one claims her, the girl grows up unaware of her origins, until her adoptive father reveals it to her after his wife’s death. Shocked and unbalanced by this news, the girl pursues the mystery of her identity and biological family—using only the meager clues left to her. Upon her death, the mystery is taken up by her granddaughter, who has a tragic story of her own. Shifting between the present day, the mid-1970s and the early 1900s, The Forgotten Garden unfolds slowly and carefully—with Morton interweaving each story line seamlessly.
I have to say that I admire Morton’s skills in crafting this story. She does a brilliant job of mixing Eliza’s, Nell’s and Cassandra’s stories in a way that felt fluid and natural. We’d learn something in one time period and then go back and get the details in the next chapter. I really enjoyed this way of telling the story. It felt like historical fiction mixed with contemporary fiction mixed with literary fiction. The mystery at the heart of the book was also satisfying … I thought I’d figured everything out only to have Morton toss me a curve ball. I love when that happens!
The other aspect I enjoyed was how the Eliza Makepeace character is a writer of fairy tales, and we get to read these stories at different points throughout the book. I loved how the fairy tales shed light on the events of the story … without that always being immediate obvious to the reader. The only thing that could have improved the story even more is if they had included the illustrations that were created for the fairy tale book! (I suppose that is asking a little too much though.)
I totally get why people gush over Kate Morton. If this is the kind of books she writes, then sign me up for more! This was a very satisfying read, and I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned storytelling that is crafted with care by the author. So, Morton fans, which one should I try next?