The beginning starts with a little girl, abandoned on a ship sailing toward Australia in the early 1900s. Months later the little girl and her small suitcase are found by the harbor master. The harbor master and his wife have been longing for children and he instantly adores the little girl, bringing her home to his wife. Soon, the harbor master and his wife are moving in order to present the little girl as their own in the next town. The harbor master knows that someone will be looking for the little girl, but she has become such a part of his family that he cannot giver her up. No one knows the little girls identity and she is very young, refusing to give her name.
In the present we meet Cassandra, a young lady who has been raised by her Grandmother. Upon her Grandmother’s death, Cassandra learns that her Grandmother has left her a cottage located in across the sea on the English coast. Cassandra’s Grandmother has never mentioned this other house so Cassandra feels compelled to visit to determine why her Grandmother held this secret. It is on the Cornish coast that Cassandra starts to unravel her Grandmother’s secret past and identity.
In the 1900s, Eliza lives in the slums on the Thames. Eliza is a strong-willed girl who makes up stories to comfort her brother every night. Eliza’s life is filled with hardship and suffering, and it almost seems a blessing when she is rescued from the slums by a distant relative. Soon she has a room in a beautiful old mansion, and she has the freedom to run by the sea. In her explorations, it doesn’t take long for her to discover the forgotten garden.
This story is winding and complex, and unfolds toward the end like a mystery. I knew that there would be parallels to The Secret Garden, but I was not expecting Eliza’s stories to be like those of the Brother’s Grimm and like those we all know through Disney, almost too similar in that they didn’t feel original. And, I had wanted the writing to be more rich and luminous. The writing style is simple and easy which was unexpectedly disappointing. And, I had figured out the mystery long before the end…
Still, I can see how this would lead to interesting book club discussions:
- There are three storylines that follow three different women, what are their similarities/how do they differ?
- Compare The Forgotten Garden to The Secret Garden
- How similar are the Eliza stories to the Grimm fairytales?
- Nell’s choices on her 21st birthday impacted the rest of her life; did she make the right decision?
- Did you think this was a love story, a tragedy or a modern fairy tale?
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, is 549 trade paperback pages.