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Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Does anyone else think the month of October flew by? I can’t believe we’re days away from Halloween already. Appropriately enough, October was Gothic Book Month for the Virtual Book Club, and I selected Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden, which came out in paperback this year and has received rave reviews.

The novel begins with Nell, a little girl placed aboard a ship sailing from England to Australia in 1913. When she arrives in Australia, she has no idea who she is or where she came from. Adopted by the harbormaster and his wife, the girl grows up happy and cared for until her father tells her the truth about her origins. This sets in motion a quest to find her true identity, a mystery that will echo across the years, culminating in her granddaughter Cassandra’s inheritance of a mysterious cottage with a forgotten garden. As Cassandra journeys to Cornwall, she uncovers secrets about a woman who once lived in the cottage known as “The Authoress:” the fairy tale writer Eliza Makepeace. The three women’s stories overlap and intertwine as the mystery of Nell's identity is slowly revealed.

The book definitely has traits of the Gothic mystery, although it steers clear of some of the more creepy elements of the form—ghosts and graveyards and such. There’s not a fainting heroine or Byronic hero in sight. But it does have a gloomy mansion, a wicked stepmother, a maze garden, and a few dark fairy tales woven throughout. While I enjoyed each of the women’s stories, Eliza’s was the most compelling for me, particularly as we got glimpses of her imagination through her fairy tales—they ended up being my favorite parts of the novel.

While I enjoyed The Forgotten Garden and was impressed by the research, ambition and passion that went into it, I wasn’t as compelled to finish it as I am with my favorite books. For one thing, the novel is long (550 pages), and the transitions between the three story lines and time periods got a little tedious at times. I’d find myself getting really into one storyline when suddenly I’d be hoisted out of that one and deposited into another, only to be switched again three or four pages later. While all the stories eventually fit together like a puzzle, the reading experience was a bit jarring.

Overall, I appreciated the novel and can say that Kate Morton is an extremely talented writer, one I’d be happy to try again, maybe with a smaller page-count next time! For anyone out there who has read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Also, is anyone interested in doing Non-fiction November? Typically, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction so if you have any suggestions for fascinating NF reads, I’d love to hear them. Happy reading, and Happy Halloween!