Best Books,  Crime fiction,  International

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I bought The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton two years ago and although I read until page 230, I gave up. There was something in the story that failed to catch my attention and I found the pace too slow. A month ago, too intrigued by The Distant Hours, also by Kate Morton, I decided to ask the publisher for the book, but silly me, I got the titles mixed up and ended up asking for The Forgotten Garden. So, after all, I decided to give it another try and I could not be happier I did.

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A lost child …On the eve of the First World War, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her –but has disappeared without a trace.

A terrible secret …On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell Andrews learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.

A mysterious inheritance …On Nell’s death, her granddaughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold — secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.

First of all, I love that the story is narrated from three different points of view and times: the beginning of the 20th century, 1975 and 2005. It helps to build a much more complex story, where the reader needs to keep active and keep track of names, places and relationships. At first, I thought The Forgotten Garden was not a demanding story, but I was wrong: I found myself drawing a genealogical tree that I did have to look at a few times. And, not only is the story complex but so are the characters: three women that represent three very different times in the 20th century. I especially loved the 1900’s plot through a child’s eyes and I think Downton Abbey fans out there will too. If I miss something on the series it is a child’s point of view on the decadence of 19th century morals and manners and the tight social customs.

There is a clear intertextuality with other gothic stories, especially Jane Eyre and Rebecca, probably due to the Kate Morton’s special interest on the field: she is pursuing a PhD on the influence of the gothic genre on modern literature and I think her works are the perfect example of that influence. I appreciated the references, but at the same time, I could not but find Morton’s gothic a little bland compared to the original works. Instead of feeling scared, I felt sadness: for me, it was more Dickens’ social preoccupation with children than Brontë’s emotion. After all, Morton is a mother of two.

From a more academic point of view, I would label The Forgotten Garden a postmodernist work, highly influenced by 19th century narrative. The book has different points of view and interpretations because one can never offer a complete view on the matter, all three views complementing each other and enriching each other, just like families do. Past, present and future mix, never being what they seem (what was the present for my grandmother, is my past now) and helping to construct us as the always-chaning person we are.

Finally, the story is so realistic that after finishing the book, I decided to google the name of two the main characters that I thought could have definitely been real people. If you have read the book, I would love to know what you think of this!

So, I recommend The Forgotten Garden to every fan of gothic, 19th century fiction or Kate Morton’s books. However, do not try to rush into the story, let it caught you, little by little. This is a long book that deserves time to really get to know the characters and their lives.

You can learn more about The Forgotten Garden:

Kate Morton’s official website – Complete with her thoughts on the book and reading group questions.

Video: Kate Morton talking about the book.

Video: Kate on writing. In case you find Morton’s narrative as cozy and inspirational as I do.



  • WordsAndPeace

    Felix culpa! So glad for you you messed up and reasked for the same book! This will probably be my best book of 2012. you can read here about my enthusiasm. also, as you will see at the end of my review, it may the good time for you then to (re-)read The Secret Garden and try The Humming Room as well!
    I plan to read all books by Kate Morton, my next one will be The House at Riverton. And she’s just publishing a brand new one!!
    here is my review:

  • Belle

    I love your analysis! I had no idea Morton was pursuing a Ph.D. in gothic influences. Cool, cool, cool. I totally got into gothic last fall and ended up writing a crappy paper about Jane Eyre.

  • Rikki

    I am glad you liked it the second time. I started to read Udolpho (talking about Gothic) and HATED it. Now I am contemplating to give it away, but after reading this I might hold on to it for a while and maybe try again. Have you ever read it? Worth a second go?

    • Elena

      Well, there were two years between my trying so… What about timming? Do you think it’s time you read that novel? I personally tend to read more gothic and 19th century dramas during the winter. Does weather affect you? If so, maybe you can stop reading until October/November.

      I haven’t heard of the book (never, ever!). So I’ll check it out.

    • Elena

      I see it’s a long book… maybe you could write a summary and stop reading it for a while? Then you can come back to your notes and start reading from there. I really like the cover, by the way, it attracts me! If not, just leave it and don’t worry! I know this sounds horrible but it has worked with me: I used to feel so bad about the books I could not read but then I started thinking of all those I could read (and enjoy, and get something out of) if I just dropped them!

      If you are looking for something easier, catchy and gothic I recommend you The Forgotten Garden, I promise it is not one of those Elena-loves/Rikki-hates crime novels 😛 I would describe it as “cozy”.

      Is Kate Morton a big thing in Germany?

      • Rikki

        I think she is rather popular, but I am not keping up with the German book market.
        Will look into getting it once my ban is over…:)

  • Pepca

    Great review! I loved this book, too! Morton intertwines the different POVs really well and makes an amazing story. I really liked The House at Riverton, too, so I think you might like it.

    • Elena

      Oh Cathy, I am 99.9% sure you are meant to be a Kate Morton lover! I think her books are cozy, very gothic and Victorian and that is why she can “afford” to include crimes in them. Don’t worry, this is not one of those nasty, forensic novels that I love 🙂

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