I made a promise to myself I would read more books this year and attend a few book clubs. Every time I return from a book discussion it reaffirms the fact that I am a total English Geek. I love book discussions. How does one get a job that tells people what book to read and then forces them to talk about it over snacks? I’ve been hosting tea parties and turning pages since I was four, I’m clearly qualified, why am I in sales?
The group I participated with this time included community members assembled at the local library, which is my favorite place to be on my days off (plus my Life List goals include participating in more events there). I love the dynamics of the crowd at book clubs, and this one was lovely. Several members were routine book lovers and “clubbers”, a few librarians, a happy mixture of insightful and sassy female contributors, two first timers who self-acknowledged they were shy but added some of the best comments, and one gentlemen who sat in having never read the book yet felt he was meant to be there after reading the event flyer. It seemed to me many of the book’s themes played out in his own life in some way and he was able to share with us some meaningful thoughts on the issues we discussed. If you have never been to a book club, or have gone and had a poor experience (cause I know I’ve read some of those blogs), I encourage you to go again. Try more than one club, more than one book. The book and the people make all the difference in the discussion and I always learn something new by attending. It’s a fun way to meet people and hear ideas you may not have considered on your own. One of my favorite conversations is when people interpret something differently in the book and you start to look at the story in a new way because of that.
The Forgotten Garden could be described as a coming of age story, a romance, a mystery novel, and a fairytale. We discussed how readers identified the book and each one had their own perspectives based on the themes that stuck out to them. The story is about Nell, a little girl who travels from England to Australia and starts a new life, one where her real name and parents are lost to her. At the age of 21, Nell learns the truth about why she has always felt different from the other members of her family, and she sets off on a journey to discover her true self that will span her lifetime and her granddaughter’s. Her only clue is a small white suitcase with a book of fairytales inside.
The author, Kate Morton, grew up in Australia and lives there today, so her words to describe the different settings of the book are deliciously visual. It has been reviewed and compared to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which I’ll agree has a similar whimsical feel, but the stories are different and the characters equally well-developed. What I loved about this book was Morton’s intricate way of creating character through the little things. Nell is a woman trying to find her past, and she’s an antiques dealer. It’s a fascinating symmetry and dichotomy to me. She surrounds herself with the past, things that have been left behind, need mending. Her goal requires her to ask questions, ask for help, search for her real family, but all she does makes her more like those cobwebbed antiques in her shop.
It’s a thought provoking read for mothers. Morton makes you ask yourself what is a good mother? What is a bad mother? When you know the story behind someone’s decisions, how does that change the way you feel about them? There are several women’s stories inside this novel spanning at least four generations. What are your opinions about mother/daughter relationships? The Forgotten Garden examines generational differences as well as the notion of self-fulfilling prophecies. Nell would not be described as a good mother to her daughter, Leslie, an outcome Nell believes was inevitable, but she is given a “do-over” with her granddaughter, Cassandra. One of the book club members who is a grandmother said she’s often heard grandparents wish they could raise their grandchildren knowing what they know from the first time parenting, what do you think?
For those of you fantasy fans, Morton will delight you as readers because her novel is intertwined with the fairytales from Nell’s childhood. The book club asked the question of whether these fables were necessary to the novel, and we answered a resounding yes. All of us agreed that the fairy stories Nell learned by heart as a child were key to her uncovering the past about her family. I must say Morton impressed me with the way in which she was able to adapt her writing to give a traditional feel to the tales. I’d be curious to know if she had done research on fables or fairytales of other countries. I actually use to compete in storytelling in high school and her writing reminded me of the English fables I used.
Morton recently finished a book tour for her third novel The Distant Hours, which sounds equally as mysterious and brooding as The Forgotten Garden was. If you’re interested in learning more about her and her work, check out her blog. She has a fantastic quote about writing her new work in progress, calling it “unexpected and happy-making,” which here on JW’s Happiness Project is a perfect description if you ask me.
What are your thoughts? Have you read any work by Kate Morton? What do you think of her ideas about mother/daughter relationships? How important is our family make-up in defining ourselves? What would you do if your self identity was changed overnight?