The Forgotten Garden By Kate Morton

A photo of the yard that I thought captured the general vibe of this book.

The Forgotten Garden, was our most recent book. We took a field trip to discuss it. We went to Tower Hill Botanical Garden, about 15 minutes from the here to discuss this book. Totally worth the trip. I fell in love with Tower Hill on this brief visit to discuss a truly beautiful book I also fell in love with. I was not alone in completely falling for this one. I don’t think anyone in the book club had anything negative to say. The closest we could come was to note that we all thought it was a bit longer than it really needed to be, and at points it seemed to drag just a little. But even in those little dragging moments, we were learning things and a mood was being set. So was it really a drag? We are still not quite sure. We encourage others to read this book and decide for themselves. Beyond that nothing but the most positive response to this book from literally every member of the book club.
This story, is one part family saga, one part mystery, one part historical fiction. It pretty much begins with a woman named Cassandra, visiting her grandmother Nell, who raised her. Nell is in the hospital dying of old age in Australia which is where the two of them live, and run a small business renting out a space in an old theater to sell old antiques. When Nell dies, all she has passes to Cassandra, including a mysterious cottage in Cornwall. But why would Nell, have a cottage in Cornwall?

We wind up, following the life of Nell, who was found at the dock by the dock keeper at about age 4, when she got off a boat from Europe all alone. She refuses to share her name. So the dock keeper brings her home finally to his wife. They try to find her people failing to do so they raise her as their own calling her Nell. She lets go of her past gradually and her memories become hazy over time. Her life with the dock keeper and his wife and soon several additional children becomes the one she is attached to. At 21, her father tells her about the mystery of her arrival which sets a lot of things in motion that result in her going in search of her roots. This search takes her back to what is now a hotel in Cornwall. Once upon a time when Nell was a baby and before it had been the manner home of an interesting and wealthy family. The father of this family, it is frequently suggested through out the text may have been Jack The Ripper. He had an unhealthy attachment to his own sister who finally fled to London to get away from him. There she had two children. He eventually found one of those children and brought them back to the manor well after their mother his sister had perished. For him, she became a surrogate for her mother. He had this child named Eliza, raised along side his own daughter, Rose. Poor sickly Rose… The girls loved each other. Once they grew up, Rose married an artist, and Eliza, wrote fairy tales and lived in a little cottage on the manor’s vast lands, which contained beautiful gardens including a large maze. The cottage sat at the far end of the maze. A place many got lost in one way or another… Rose had difficulty in her marriage… Something she wanted was not possible. So, she turned to Eliza, who of course helped her thinking it might bring them closer only to find that it did the opposite. Eliza, could not tolerate Rose’s cruel and horrible mother. She couldn’t tolerate her for legitimate reasons…. So when Rose, and her husband perish young while on a vacation together, that thing most wanted, is now left to those who won’t appreciate it and will ruin it. Eliza, unable to deal with that does what she must to save this thing from a man hinted at as being Jack the Ripper, and his horrid wife… Yet somehow, she herself doesn’t make it to Australia…. What happened to Eliza? Who is Nell, really? The questions and many more end up in the lap of Cassandra, when Nell dies in Australia. It is her turn in a modern era to head for Cornwall, to try to solve a 100 year old mystery of who Nell is so she can better know herself, and find her happily ever after.

Much of this story is told through absolutely brilliant folk lore and original fairy tales that were written by the book’s author. However they were supposed to within the fiction be the work of Eliza.

So much of time and our history can be found in folk lore and old stories. So much we think lost is still hiding sometimes in plain sight. And tales of magic we often view as kids stories and Disney, can be based on truths of the heart as well as literal truth from times long past. Many of these tales we pass on generation after generation are far far far older than we realize and contain so much more than we realize. It was really fun to explore this as a book club as we read this haunting tale.

Kate Morton, as a writer puts me a bit in mind of Daphne Du Maurier. The mood is not altogether dissimilar from Rebecca. Kate, did a fabulous job with this story. I hope we can read more of her books as a club in the future, because this one was absolutely brilliant.

There is so much to unpack and unload and I would need years to write about all adequately to satisfy myself, so it is really best to stop here because I don’t want to spoil anything. This is a book the whole club would strongly and highly recommend to just about anyone and everyone who likes to get lost in the maze only to find themself in some old over grown garden in need of some TLC but that still maintains it’s haunting beauty.

Kate Morton, is another one I would love to talk to. I don’t always feel that way about the writers I read. But there are some that I would seriously sell my first born to Rumpelstiltskin to have a conversation with. She is one of them. The research into folk lore she must have done is absolutely incredible and I would love to pick her brain about that because it is something I was raised with a healthy love for by my own grandmother. I don’t know how many times she told me about Snow White and Rose Red… Some of my happiest times were listening to her voice as she read me so many magical tales. And she did it for far longer than she should have. Because I couldn’t do it myself. I am painfully dyslexic if you have not noticed reading this blog. Part of why I keep a book club and am always reading is because I live in fear of forgetting how. I must have been eleven years old before I could write and spell my own first name all by myself without help. I couldn’t read without help until that age. I will never forget the day I started to read. I had spent years struggling and battling for literacy with the aide of the Orton Gullingham method. Then one day, I was in the super market with my mother and something clicked in my brain all of a sudden. I was in the cereal isle when it happened. I hit the ground. I was whiter than a sheet. All the cereal boxes were suddenly talking to me in letters. I could understand them all. Just like that. It was like the big bang happened in my brain and my universe went from listening to Grandma read to me, living in the imaginary worlds I created for myself in my child games of pretend, to suddenly having a massive sudden expansion of the universe. Literacy was hard won. it means such a great deal to me. So to be able to explore the world created by Kate Morton, in this book was absolutely one of the greatest gifts ever. Being able to discuss her inner world with her I think would be a very interesting conversation.

So thank you Kate Morton, you provided this book club a month of entertainment followed by an afternoon spent among the flowers of a wonderful local botanical garden.

We highly recommend this book. Every single one of us.
Thank you for reading my poorly written drivel.
I apologize for my grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors.
I can’t always see them to fix them, I remain dyslexic. It never truly fully goes away.
Amanda of Wildflower Farm

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