Book Review: The Forgotten Garden

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

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.

Author Kate Morton

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?  

17 responses

  1. Such an exquisite review. One of those after which I skip over to Amazon and buy the book even though I’ve already exceeded my quota for the….year!!! I define myself in many ways. I am first a woman then a wife and mother then a writer and a rider and a sister, no longer a daughter (sad), and a dog mom. I am defined by the people and animals who surround me.
    Lovely post.

    1. Ooh I’m excited you got it. Whenever you get around to reading it, let me know what you think! Once you get into it, everyone agreed it becomes hard to put down. And I didn’t spoil any mysteries so there’ll be lots to entertain you.

    1. Thank you for always commenting, you’re the best Patti! Now when are you going to start blogging, huh, huh?

  2. I absolutely love talking about books. My writing class this year was basically a round-table discussion that talked both about published literature and about each others’ workshop submissions, and I found it to be one of the most sublime, enjoyable, mind-expanding experiences of my life.

    Thank you for the review, I’ll check this book out!

    1. Yah, we did that in my class too. It was really cool how such amazing stories came out of people you wouldn’t expect. Just goes to reiterate that everyone really does have a story to tell.

  3. Jess, I’ve been blogging for 4 months now. I just did my 17th blog! My website/blogsite is I blog about anything and everything but not really about writing. My first blog or so was about writing but then I took Kristen Lamb’s class and now I blog so that people can get to know me better, so my blogs are more personal. Anyway, I blog on Wednesdays on my own website and then last week 6 of us started Women Unplugged and I’ll be blogging every other Friday on that blogsite. Tomorrow is my first Friday. Come on by!

    1. I thought you were cause we had that author branding class together, but your comments don’t link to your blog, rather to your facebook page so I didn’t know. I’m so glad you told me! Definitely be stopping by!

  4. Jess, maybe you can help me with this. How do I get my comments on people’s blogs to link back to my own website? Do you know how to do that?

    1. Actually, it looks like you figured it out, now in my comments management page I see your blog.

  5. Dear Jess,
    Sorry, I’m not trying to stalk you or take up half your day, but could you tell me if it linked back to my real blogsite (my own website that has the train at the top and is a blue/green color and is only mine) or the Women Unplugged blog site that I share with 5 other writers?

    1. It linked to your website!

  6. Haven’t read any Kate Morton books. The first time I heard of her name, I wonder how she’s related to the salt maker. 😉 Mother/daughter relationships…that’s hard. A good mother is someone who listens and someone who nurtures. My mom isn’t the listening type. Neither is she a nurturing one.

    1. You might really find this book interesting. Nell’s perception of herself changes drastically when she learns her family is not her true family (and I’m not spoiling anything, that’s right in the beginning). She later has a daughter and feels she’s destined to be a bad mother because her own mother left/lost her. She gets a second chance with her granddaughter. There are several other mother/daughter relationships in the book too, and you can see how the environment they grow up in really sways how they become themselves.

  7. What a wonderful review of this book. I have not read it yet, but I was wondering if you could tell me is this an adult book or would it be appropriate for a pre-teen (sex, language, etc.) This sounds like a book that my daughter would be interested in. She is a huge reader. I am not a fast reader, so it could be a while before I would get to it. Thank you!


    1. Hmm, pre-teen, it’s a bit long and there’s some familial intrigue without it being gaudy or vulgar. Definitely a teenager and older would enjoy this book, but if your daughter reads advanced for her age, why not? As long as they’re reading, I’m for it! Maybe it could be one you read together!

  8. Thank you! She is definitely an advanced reader, so I am not concerned about the length. I just didn’t want the subject matter to be inappropriate.

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