There is something completely mesmerizing to me about Kate Morton's books. Her stories have a gothic feel, with old secrets and tragic pasts and huge, sprawling mansions. Granted, I will admit I've always felt that perhaps her books were a hundred or so pages too long, because she really takes her little sweet time in getting to the point, winding us around every garden, lake, whispered rumor and ancient fairy tale. But there is a delicious decadence about her stories...layer after rich layer of intrigue.
I've only listened to Kate Morton's books on audio. There is only one narrator that she uses, Caroline Lee, who is a perfect match with the type of story that Morton tells. So like Tana French, I will only ever listen. And much to my angst, my library did not carry "The Forgotten Garden" on audio until just recently. When I discovered they'd finally gotten it in, it was like Christmas.
Synopsis: In 1913, in a port in Australia, a dock master discovers a little 4 year-old girl, alone and abandoned after getting off a ship that traveled from England. She's not willing or able to tell them her name or her circumstances, and only carries a small white suitcase that contains a rare bound copy of fairy tales. The dock master and his wife take in the child as their own, and name her Nell. It is only when Nell is of age and about to marry that her father tells her the truth about her past, and this knowledge changes Nell forever. She calls off her wedding and retreats from her family for the rest of her life.
Upon Nell's death, her granddaughter Cassandra (the only family member with which Nell has a relationship) learns of Nell's questionable background. Cassandra also learns that Nell has secretly owned a cliff side cottage in England since the 1970's, that has now been bequeathed to her. Cassandra decides to unlock the secrets of her grandmother's past. Through Nell's journals and the mysterious book of fairy tales still kept in the little white suitcase, Cassandra learns of The Blackhurst Manor and the wealthy but tortured Mountrachet family. Of a sick cousin and an orphaned one, best of friends. Of a distant father, a hateful mother, and a mysterious authoress who writes her fanciful fairy tales on a high cliff top.
Morton's narrative moves from the early 1900's to the 1970's to the current day, slowly revealing the complex layers of secrets and intrigue of this spellbinding tale.
My thoughts: All of Morton's novels are a spiderweb of plots and characters, but this one was more complicated than the others. Three time periods, with five or six generations. However, I knew from experience that if I was patient, all would be revealed. She will take care of her beloved readers, never fear. Pack some food and water and wander through a garden maze at your leisure. Expect it to take all day. Stop and smell a flower, listen to the birdsong, close your eyes and let the breeze carry you away. This is what it was like to explore this story.
There were a few similarities to "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodges Burnett, which is such a wonderful children's book. The author was even mentioned in this story, with an implication that the garden mentioned in the title was inspiration to Burnett! Geek moment! But while "The Secret Garden" is innocent and makes your heart swell, this story is more twisty and dark and tragic and the best kind of brain food for the literary lover.
And unlike her other books, if I had a gun to my head to force me to decide which hundred pages had to be pulled? I wouldn't want to let a single one escape. I was engaged from the first page to the last. This was by far my favorite of all of Morton's books.
A few words about the audio production: I mentioned the narrator at the beginning of this post, Caroline Lee, and I said all there is to say. She is perfect. If the powers that be decided to record a Morton audio with someone else, I would be devastated.
Audiobook length: 20 hours and 38 minutes (560 pages)
5 out of 5 stars