Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fiction Review: The Forgotten Garden

My book group met last week to discuss The Forgotten Garden, a novel by Kate Morton.  When I first picked up my copy from the library and saw the title and the cover picture, of a classic English garden, I worried that I wouldn’t like it very much – sounded sort of boring to me.  So, when I opened up this more than 500-page novel and started to read, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was almost immediately swept up into an exciting story.

The Forgotten Garden is part-mystery and part-family epic, spanning several generations in both England and Australia.  It begins in 1913 with an unknown and very young girl alone on a ship bound for Australia.  The dockmaster finds her after the ship gets to its port, with no sign of who she belongs to, so he and his wife adopt her.  The only clue to her identity is a beautiful book of fairy tales she carries with her in a tiny suitcase.  Right away, mysteries and secrets abound.  Who is the girl?  How did she come to be on this ship by herself?  What will become of her?

From there, the novel moves back and forth between the girl’s (and then woman’s) life as she grows up and has her own family; the earlier 1900’s following the author of the fairy tale book; 1975 when, as an older woman, she returns to England to search for her roots; and her granddaughter in the present day, trying to unravel her grandmother’s secrets.  If that sounds confusing, well…it is at times but well worth it, as the mysteries in the book come to light a bit at a time, and the reader tries to piece together the whole story from each of the character’s perspectives.

It’s a clever and engaging way to tell this multi-generational story that shows how an action made in the past can continue to effect family members for many, many years into the future.  The novel also weaves the fairy tales found with the little girl into the story, with their actions and characters offering clues to its author and her connection with the lost girl.

Everyone in my book group enjoyed this unique novel that features many unexpected twists and turns.  I am definitely interested in reading Kate Morton’s first novel, The House at Riverton.

549 pages, Atria Books



  1. OH! Great review. I have this on my book shelf to read someday. I think the size is what is daunting to me. I do love those multi-generational novels though--maybe I will make this part of my summer reading!

  2. This was the first book that I read on my Kindle and I thought it was just OK -even though the summary sounded so interesting to me. I wonder if I didn't like it all that much because I wasn't reading a "hard" copy. I remember being very ambivalent about reading on a Kindle and perhaps that colored my view of it. Something to think about...