Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Narrator: Caroline Lee
Audiobook Length: 20 hours, 38 minutes
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “A lost child…
On the eve of the first world war, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her — but the Authoress has disappeared without a trace.
A terrible secret…
On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell O’Connor learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.
A mysterious inheritance…
On Nell’s death, her grand-daughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold – secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.”
Thoughts: In The Forgotten Garden, Ms. Morton weaves a tapestry of characters, mystery and gothic elements to create a modern-day fairy tale that casts its spell on the reader. Its purpose is not to instruct or educate but to create a sense of enjoyment in the reader, as the reader revels in a tale that is part gothic, part mystery, and part historical fiction.
Fairy tales, and the idea of story telling, is such a key element in the novel that the reader does not understand that The Forgotten Garden is a fairy tale until the very end. Flitting between different time periods and following the story of three very different women, all connected through some mysterious connection, the key characteristics of a fairy tale seem to be missing but on further reflection become apparent. There is an evil witch, a damsel in distress, an arduous journey that is necessary for happiness. Which character fulfills which role is not what one would expect, and yet this realization only enhances the mastery with which Ms. Morton spun her tale.
In any good fairy tale, the characters make the story, and the same is true with The Forgotten Garden. Enigmatic Eliza, lost Nell, lonely Cassandra – the reader yearns, rejoices, and despairs with each of them as they battle for the happiness each deserves. Each character stands on her own merits, and her story is a story unto itself. The Forgotten Garden truly is three stories combined into one. The character connections and similar motifs mesh the three together in a seamless fashion, so that the reader can switch from character to character without getting confused or losing interest. Enhancing the characters are lush descriptions of the Blackhurst manor, engaging secondary characters that prove to be excellent foils and comic relief for those scenes that become too intense emotionally, and an overwhelming sense of care and love Ms. Morton instills into each line of her novel, for there is no doubt that for Ms. Morton, The Forgotten Garden was a labor of love.
As the narrator, Caroline Lee does a masterful job distinguishing the many female characters that play key roles in the novel. Through the use of different dialects, pronunciations, stresses, and inflections, the listener is able to determine which character is speaking with little to no trouble. Unfortunately, The Forgotten Garden is not a novel that is best suited for the audio format. There are so many clues and hints left along the way that I wanted to review as I got further into the story but could not without listening to the entire novel again. This inability to flip through previous chapters to find the scenes I wanted to review was a momentary distraction at the time but a niggling concern nonetheless.
The Forgotten Garden came highly recommended to me by others, and I found that those recommendations have definitive merit. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a novel solely for its story without attempting to glean a lesson from its pages, and The Forgotten Garden was an excellent reminder to enjoy reading purely for its entertainment value. There is something so simple and yet so mesmerizing about the individual stories that one cannot help but sit back and let them wash over you with delight. Enchanting and all together charming, Rose, Eliza, Nell and most importantly, Cassandra, found their way under my skin, and I yearned to keep listening to discover their secrets and their fate. I was loathe for the stories to end and cannot wait to discover Ms. Morton’s other works. My hope is that they are as special as The Forgotten Garden.