SUMMARY: In 1913, a little girl is set aboard the ship heading from London to Maryborough in Queensland, Australia. Abandoned in a strange land, she is unable to remember her name. Ninety years later, Cassandra follows the little girl’s footsteps back to England to uncover her grandmother’s identity. Doing so, she gradually reveals a strange family history of friendship and betrayal, sacrifice and sorrow, and love.
While reading The Forgotten Garden, I felt as if I were a detective. Unravelling a secret after a secret, following various leads, speculating about the truth, ad every time I thought I had figured everything out, there was a new surprise round the corner.
Kate Morton masterfully switches the story telling between several strong female characters. Remarkably, in spite of all the differences between them, they all evolve around one main theme – a search for one’s identity and longing to be loved.
Nell and her granddaughter Cassandra both share their feeling of abandonment. In spite of suffering because of it, they never hurt other people. The same can be said about Eliza Makepeace, the Authoress, who put the little Nell on the ship to Australia. Although Nell and Cassandra are the ones who reveal her story, I think Eliza is the true heroine of The Forgotten Garden. However, she is a tragic heroine I cannot but sympathise with.
All Eliza wants is to be loved by her relatives who only exploit her eagerness to gain their love. Yet, no matter how hard she tries, what she does, what sacrifices she makes, she is denied that because of her origin. She would be acceptable only if she humbly yielded to their expectations of how she should behave and what she should do. Eliza, however, is an unconventional and honest person, and she refuses to conform, remaining true to herself.
The only person who could and should relate to her is her uncle Linus, who is unable to do so because the suppression by his family in his childhood turned him into a coward and a doormat. Thus, Eliza finds her only sanctuary in writing fairytales with carefully hidden autobiographical elements.
It is utterly incomprehensible, even inhumane, to me how people could be so cruel to shun a good, intelligent and helpful person on the basis of his/her birth. Another reason for the relatives’ rejection of Eliza is that her presence constantly reminds her of their own origins, actions, opportunism and, above all, sins.
Morton portrays the naturalistic views upon the circumstances of birth defining a person very well. She makes The Forgotten Garden stand out also by employing a variety of narrating styles, from flashbacks, dreams and letters to fairytales.
The Forgotten Garden is a beautiful story in its tragic way and I could not help myself not to shed a tear or two in the end.
RECOMMENDATION: The Forgotten Garden is a beautifully written must-read about people searching for their roots and, in spite of a lot of sorrow, finding love along the way.