My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First of all, I have to say that Kate Morton is my new favorite author. I can't put a finger on exactly why, but I am finding her books thoroughly addictive. I am trying to put off starting The Distant Hours because I know it is the only one I have left of hers to read until she publishes her new title next year. Of the two I have already read, I have not yet decided which I liked better: The Forgotten Garden or The House at Riverton. Luckily I don't really have to choose and I can happily find a permanent place on my shelves for both of these wonderful books.
The basic premise of The Forgotten Garden is the story of a little girl who travels alone on a ship from England to Australia in 1913. The girl is taken in by the family of the dockmaster who finds her and raises her as their own, naming her Nell. On her 21st birthday, Nell's father tells her the truth and shatters her sense of self. Nell has an intense desire to figure out who her birth family was and why she was abandoned on that ship all those years ago. One of the only clues Nell is left with is a white suitcase containing a book of fairy tales written by a woman named Eliza Makepeace.
The book is told from various points of view and over various time periods. The story is alternately told from Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra's (Nell's granddaughter) point of view. It takes place 30 years ago when Nell is first investigating her origins, the present time when Cassandra has taken over the investigation after Nell's death, and the early years of the 1900s when all the mysterious "action" is originally taking place. It was fascinating to see Cassandra and Nell piecing together the mystery while also "going back in time" to see what really happened. From reading other reviews, I have gathered that many readers did not like all the bouncing around, but I found it intriguing and feel it really added to the story, making it more interesting.
As with Morton's previous novel, this one also had all sorts of twists and turns. Even when I thought I had it all figured out, there was always at least one more curve ball thrown my way, keeping me on the edge of my seat until the very last page. But unlike The House at Riverton, after finishing this book, I still had a few unanswered questions in my mind. I spent a good hour flipping back and forth, looking up various passages and piecing together a few of the more minor mysteries. I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something. Upon further examination, I found there were indeed a few small connections that had slipped under my radar. I normally would not have done this, but I really enjoyed playing detective after the fact. Trust me, the details I was looking up were not the main thrust of the story-line; Morton wrapped up the primary mystery/secret in a very satisfactory way. But for anyone who likes to read in between the lines, there were a few other things to be discovered. If you were slightly more astute than I, or if you read this book over less time than I did, maybe you would see these things the first time around. Either way, it was an excellent and enjoyable read that I will treasure for a long time to come.