Pan Books published The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. The author tells the stories of three women of three generations in search of their roots covering a hundred years in the process. While two of them were displaced by no choice of their own, the third is set upon a quest by her grandmother to solve a family mystery.
The three women are linked by a book of illustrated fairytales. Their stories are told parallel to each other. The ploy of making time jumps from chapter to chapter works surprisingly well for this story as past and present become progressively more entwined. If at the beginning of the book you tend to get slightly confused by these jumps, they start to make sense once you get past the first few chapters.
Starting out in Australia, the story leads readers back to a country mansion in Cornwall and the family that lived there before the Great War. The heroine of that story is Nell. She was found abandoned on a ship without parents or guardian. As an adult, she set out to find her roots symbolized by a book of fairytales found in her luggage. This old book was the only clue and also gave her the only lead. She started her research by tracing the known facts about its author.
Her findings led her to a girl called Eliza who would become the author of the fairytales. When her mother died, the child was taken in by her uncle and aunt. The known facts about her life remained few, and the more Nell found out, the more she got puzzled. Finally, she set out for England to see if she could trace down more facts. Her quest led her into Cornwall and to a family that was less than charming.
Cassandra, the third of the women, inherited a Cornish property from her grandmother Nell. Intrigued and at a loss to explain how her grandmother came by it, she in turn set out for England and Cornwall to unravel the mystery behind the property and her grandmother’s diary of her journey there. Once there, she started to unravel the strands of mystery and the clues left to her by her grandmother. She found more questions than answers. In her quest, she used the fairytales as a guide to the family history and hidden lies surrounding the family once living in the mansion and the cottage she inherited.
Covering a time period from about 1900 to the present, the book is quite long, but this shouldn’t put you off reading it. It lends itself to reading chapter by chapter with interruptions as there is no timeline you have to follow; the book takes care of that for you. But the storyline is strong enough to carry you on once you sit down with a cup of tea and might bind you up for longer than you intended. You have to be prepared, though, to overlook some minor inconsistencies which the author overlooked as her characters evolved while writing; on the other hand, the logical errors are not grave enough to mar the enjoyment of the story.
Christopher Lloyd and Great Dixter
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