“The Forgotten Garden” is an extraordinary, intergenerational tale full of suspense, surprises and quirky disclosures. The first chapter introduces us to Nell when she was four years old and found herself alone on a ship heading for Australia. The woman who accompanied her, known as the Authoress, disappeared after telling Nell to crouch behind some wooden barrels in the ship's hold. Fortunately, the dockmaster, Hugh O'Connor, took Nell home to his wife Lil. They agreed to raise Nell as their own.
The story is not about Nell, however, except indirectly. Almost a century later, Nell's granddaughter Cassandra, a young Australian woman, received word that she had inherited a cottage and a piece of property purchased by her grandmother back in Cornwall, England. Cassandra soon made plans to visit Cornwall and take possession of her inheritance. When she arrived there, she learned about the Mountrachet family who lived in Blackhurst Manor where Cassandra's Cliff Cottage was located. She spent a lot of time cleaning up the walled garden next to the cottage where she encountered secrets and half-truths.
The Authoress also had a connection to Blackhurst Manor. Her mother Georgiana had been the black sheep of the Mountrachet family when she married a mere sailor by whom she had two children, Eliza and Sammy. It is here that we learn much about the Mountrachet family, for Eliza, whom we now know is the Authoress, was rescued from her life of poverty and brought back to her family home at Blackhurst Manor. Her mother Georgiana had died long ago, and her brother Sammy was killed in a bicycle accident when he and Eliza worked for a cruel antiques dealer named Mrs. Swindell.
Eliza was introduced to her cousin Rose, the darling of the Mountrachet family, who was frail and sickly most of the time. Rose welcomed the lively Eliza into her life, but Rose's mother Adeline felt that Eliza was a bad influence on Rose because of her poor manners and rowdy language. Even so, Eliza who is a gifted story teller, entertained her cousin with her stories and Rose helped her to have them published.
The Forgotten Garden
When Rose fell in love with a poor artist named Nathaniel Walker, her health improved and they were married even though her mother Adeline disapproved of Nathaniel's low social status. Alas, the marriage was marred by the fact that Rose was unable to have children due to her life-long ailments.
We are soon made aware that a servant in the house was dismissed when she was found to be with child, though unmarried. Eliza the Authoress is made to stay in the Cliff Cottage away from her cousin Rose. Nathaniel was hired to sketch the pictures for Eliza's fairy tales. Rose happily has her dream - a baby girl she names Ivory.
But what of the x-rays that damaged Rose's organs when she was a child? Would not that have prevented her from having her healthy baby girl Ivory? And what of Ivory's disappearance and Eliza's departure from Blackhurst forever? And how is Nell related to the Mountrachet family? The answers to these questions are all contained in the last 100 pages of “The Forgotten Garden.” Reading this novel is, I am afraid, like a giant roller coaster ride. Every chapter seems to present a new mystery to be solved.
Kate Morton is comparatively young at 38 years old to have written three novels in addition to “The Forgotten Garden.” They are “The House at Riverton,” “The Distant Hours,” and “The Secret Keeper.” This last mentioned was discussed in my Book Club, which led me to seek out Kate Morton’s other works.
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