Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden: A Novel
How to go about reviewing this book. I almost don’t know where to start, so I guess I’ll start by saying that I thought it was a really, really good, well told story which earns a 5 out of 5 rating. I don’t know where to start because it’s a complicated story which spans generations. Some of which the reader is privy to before the characters in their own time and some of which the reader doesn’t know.

Morton essentially tells us the story of Nell, an English woman who was sent to Australia as a small child. No one knows her story, not even Nell. For a long time many things were hidden from her in an assumption to best let things Nell herself forgot remain forgotten. Nell’s granddaughter Cassie, sets out years later to find out what happened all those years ago.

I can’t actually say much more about it without giving parts of the book away. The story is written in a complex manner crossing time and space to fill in the pieces of the puzzle one at a time and although Nell’s story is central to the novel, hers is not the only story told. Understanding the one story requires knowledge of other’s pasts and futures. The events of one era come crashing together to cause waves which will be felt far into the future and, in turn, create further waves of their own. By including so much in the novel, Morton conveys that understanding is imperative; that to judge without knowledge is to judge falsely and unwisely. Not even the figures central to the plot understand how things came to be as they are until the past comes together to explain the future.

In a sense, the book is a mystery in reverse. You know where you’ve gotten to, but not how you arrived there and nothing in the past seems to make much sense. Little bits of the future are revealed as the stories are told. Morton uses this to her advantage by omitting or revealing small facts or clues by way of which she keeps enough tension in the plot to coax the reader along without creating unnecessary tension. It’s almost as if she’s leading you through the maze to the forgotten garden, but all of the maze and not just the path that leads through. She takes you down all of the twists and turns that lead to dead ends, but instead of letting it frustrate the reader, she uses it to help them understand the maze as a whole. Understanding the construction of the maze helps in understanding the way through the maze and what is at the other end. As such, the maze is really a metaphor for the whole story. She repeatedly refers to people getting lost in the maze; even those who once knew the way through can no longer find the correct pathway without thought and reflection. The maze came to be a way to hide and bury the past from the future as family secrets and letting it become overgrown only helped ensure that the past remained buried.

This is another one of those books I could write volumes about but as that would pretty much give the whole thing away, I won’t. I can say that it reminds me a bit of Rosamund Pichard’s novels (the books, not the much less praise worthy films) as far as style is concerned, only The Forgotten Garden adds a mysterious element which I thought added a lot to the book, especially with it’s well-timed revelations. Like I said, 5/5.

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