In which we never grow too old for a fairy tale, especially the kind full of dark, dangerous secrets
Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
What it’s about: Once upon a time, a little girl found herself all alone on a dock in Australia, unable to remember even her own name. Her one clue to her former life was a book of fairy tales written by the woman known only to her as the Authoress. Once upon another time, the Authoress was a little girl, too, but an outcast in the English manor of her formidable aunt and reclusive uncle. Her only light was her cousin, Rose, for whom she would do anything in the world. Once upon a third time, a young woman lost everyone in her world and so she traveled across the sea to unravel the a past that connected herself, her grandmother, and the Authoress.
The Forgotten Garden weaves together the stories of these three women, in chapters that skip from the the Authoress’s life in the early 1900s to Nell’s search for her identity in the 1970s to her granddaughter Cassandra’s mission to finish what Nell began thirty years ago. This story works on so many levels, but at heart it is a fairy tale. Morton is a master of this language and her story bears a lot of unpacking. Not only do we have the haunting and beautiful original fairy tales penned by the Authoress, we also see them subtly referenced in the unfolding “real” story. I think what I appreciated most was how this was done with such a light touch. If you want to delve into the symbolism in The Forgotten Garden, it’s there in spades. But if you just want a gothic mystery set in a haunted cottage on the edge of an English manor’s garden maze, this book can be that for you, too.
It reminds me a bit of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, another fabulous book that proves you can still combine fairy tales, English manors, and little girls and create something striking and fresh. Some of the strength of this genre is found in its familiarity. These tales evoke the ones we heard as children and there’s a natural, emotional response to the earliest stories we knew.
Would I recommend? Definitely. The Forgotten Garden is beautifully written, a compelling mystery, a misty grown-up fairy tale, and quite a satisfying read.