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Saturday, 13 November 2010
The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton
Kate Morton is a young Australian writer who lives in the Brisbane hinterland. She has been a fan of fairy stories since her childhood and has used this love of fantasy in this big, fat, delicious novel. The book, a work of historical fiction, is peppered with a wonderful set of characters and places where the reader feels part of the unravelling mystery.
The story is full of tragedy, secrets and discovery. There are three story lines happening, ranging from the present to early 20th century Victorian times, and all are tied together to create a suspenseful story of a family over several generations. The transitions between these periods create great tension, for example, the heat and frangipanis of the Brisbane setting is such a strong, marked, contrast to chilly Victorian England.
Morton uses wonderful descriptions, especially of the places she grew up in. As one who has experienced many a sub-tropical summer in Brisbane, her imagery captures the heat:
‘It was one of those desperate Antipodean spells where the days seem strung together with no gaps between. Fans do little else but move the hot air around, cicadas threaten to deafen, to breathe is to exert, and there is nothing for it but to lie on one's back and wait for January and February to pass...’ (Exactly, but now we have air conditioning!)
While some of the twists in the tale aren’t too difficult to predict, half the fun is finding out if you’re right and the other half is seeing which unanticipated twists Morton will throw in.
At the centre of the tale is Nell. Nell is secure in her identity and knows what she wants in life. Everything changes though, when on her 21st birthday her father reveals he is not her real father, her family is not her real family and she was, in fact, found on the Maryborough Wharf at the age of four. Her true origin and heritage are unknown. This news devastates Nell, as it would most readers, cracking the foundation of her life.
After Nell's death, it is her granddaughter Cassandra who must uncover the mystery of the little girl lost. This mystery takes her to Cornwall, to a cottage she has inherited from Nell. Here she discovers far more than she expects. In particular, she uncovers the long guarded secrets of the Mountrachet family, and of their ward, Eliza Makepeace. Eliza is the most fascinating character in the novel. From a young age she makes up stories to scare and fascinate those around her. Later, she puts these dark fairytales to paper, and these appear in the novel itself in the Victorian segment, making for a magical setting, mystery, and a fight between good and evil.
The characters are vivid, wounded and flawed in interesting ways that feel more Gothic than depressing. The story could be described as a combination of Daphne du Maurier and The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett puts in an appearance in the story.) The places are often as vivid as the characters, whether it’s the garden and cottage in Victorian England, Nell’s home in Australia in the now very trendy Brisbane suburb of Paddington, or a flat in London.
This is the second book of Morton's. If you can, chase down her other novel, international bestseller The Shifting Fog, every bit as breathtaking as The Forgotten Garden. I may review it next.
Reviewed by L’Aussie at L’Aussie Writing