The story begins with a little girl who is hiding on a ship. It is clear that she has boarded the ship with a woman she calls The Authoress, but after waiting for a very long time, the little girl joins some other children in a game. Soon she is on the dock in Australia, all alone. No one from the ship or the town she has arrived in is there to claim her. The dockmaster and his wife take her in and raise her as their own. They name her Nell because she cannot remember her name. When Nell is 21 years old, her father tells her the truth. This sets the young woman off on a quest to discover who she really is.
In The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton slowly reveals the story through three points of view. First there is the story of Nell's research and travels to England as an adult in the 1970s. Then there is the story of her granddaughter, Cassandra's own travels in 2005 after her grandmother's death, as she tries to fill in the pieces Nell wasn't able to uncover. And finally, we travel all the way back to the early 1900s to learn more about Nell's real family, and the events that led to her being alone on that ship.
This book has sat on my shelf for more than a year. I always thought I would enjoy it, but it's much longer than the books I usually read so I held off reading it. I'm so glad I finally picked it up! This is a wonderful work of historical fiction. It's a family saga filled with a compelling mystery that keeps the pages turning. Morton brought the time and locales to life; I could visualize the streets of London at the turn of the century, the little cottage overrun by nature, and the beautiful gardens full of flowers and trees.
I just loved the fact that Morton included the fairy tales that are an integral part of the story. She didn't just tell us what they were about. She actually included them in full so we could read along with Cassandra and the other characters as they discovered the fairy tales themselves.
I highly recommend The Forgotten Garden to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and family sagas. It's a beautifully written story with fascinating characters and an engaging mystery that pulls you through the story from beginning to end. I will say I figured out a good deal of the mystery much sooner than the characters did, but this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story.
My Rating: 5/5
For more information and to hear a reading of the first chapter, visit the author's website
Reading group guide
This review was written based on a copy of The Forgotten Garden that I obtained through Paperback Swap.