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A Book A Week: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden is a good, sprawling read, something for a rainy weekend or a cottage vacation. It's long and has lots of characters; also fairy tales, abandoned children, long voyages, literary puzzles, locked gardens, evil stepmothers and mysterious inheritances. I really liked it, except for a few small complaints.

Nell and her sisters have a happy childhood in early 20th century sea Australia. Only as an adult does she discover that her parents are not really her parents. She was discovered by the harbormaster at age 4, abandoned on a ship full of immigrants from England, and adopted by the harbormaster and his wife. Nell's quest to discover her real identity, and the reason she arrived in Australia alone, form the central theme of the book.

The author could have told Nell's story linearly, but instead she opted for a much more complicated approach, and brings in two other central characters: the woman who may or may not be Nell's mother (named Eliza) and Nell's granddaughter Cassandra, who continues Nell's quest after Nell's death. Thus we really have three stories going on at three different points in time: early 20th Century, the 1970s and the 2000s. On her website, Morton says that she "was plaiting the strands of Eliza, Nell and Cassandra's stories, so that each woman's journey could play its part in the solution of the book's mystery."

While I like her image of the three strands of a braid, what Morton sometimes ends up with is a big tangle where it's hard to remember which woman is uncovering which secret. In the end I wasn't sure whether Cassandra figured out the whole story or not, and this was a bit disappointing. On the other hand, I certainly had the whole story, which I guess is all that matters.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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