A tiny girl arrives in Australia in 1913 on a ship, with only a suitcase to accompany her. When no one claims her, the dockmaster and his wife take her in as their own daughter. Nell lives a happy life with her adopted family, never realizing that she has a secret past, until her father tells her the news on her 21st birthday. Devastated, Nell dismantles the life that no longer rightly seems her own and tries to discover her true origins. It is only years later when her father dies and leaves her the suitcase that she has any clues to help her in her search.
In 1975, armed with this new information, Nell sets off for England, where she knows she was born. The suitcase holds a book of fairy tales written by a woman who lived in a cottage on a grand estate in Cornwall, and the fairy tales, along with the story of their author, prove key to unlocking further mysteries of Nell’s parentage. But even though Nell makes progress, she ends up having to go back to Australia and doesn’t get to finish solving the perplexing case of who she truly is. It is only in 2005, when Nell dies, that her granddaughter Cassandra finally is able to finish what her grandmother started.
The Forgotten Garden is a wonderfully woven story, a gothic tale of dark deeds; mysterious origins; sinister characters willing to do anything to protect their secrets; a wealthy, titled family living on a large estate, and seeming dead ends — in short, all the ingredients that make a good gothic novel. Some of the secrets are not entirely surprises, considering the weight that Morton gives to certain elements of the story throughout the novel; a few are. The plot is intricate and weighty; the settings are enveloping in their detail and mood; the characters are fully drawn, and their circumstances, fates and feelings are of great import to the reader as the book goes along. The emotional payoff at the end is just as much as the intellectual payoff of finally learning the full truth of the story. The Forgotten Garden is a beautifully written and satisfying novel. Morton’s sophomore effort is outstanding, even better than her first, The House at Riverton. I’ll look forward to more books from her in the future.
Rated: Mild, for occasional mild language and a few brief mild sexual references.