Secret Garden

The Forgotten Garden
Kate Morton

I loved Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours (link), but found her Forgotten Garden even more satisfying. Only a quarter way through the novel, I was happy to find a story about a lady writer, an orphan, English aristocrats, and mistaken forgotten identity. Set it all at the English seaside, throw in a sprawling manor, a walled garden, and an invalid (or two), and you’ve got the stuff of every ten-year-old bookworm’s dreams. Add forty plus years and it’s the stuff of mine.

The story opens with a little stowaway, tucked behind crates on a ship’s deck, watching “the Authoress” walk briskly away. Weeks later that same nameless stowaway is found alone, perched atop a suitcase on a dock in Australia. Hustled home by the portmaster to his childless wife, the girl is renamed Nell and lived until her twenty-first birthday not knowing of her origins.

Fast forward seventy years and the one-time stowaway has died, leaving her granddaughter a legacy: a long-abandoned cottage on the Cornish coast. And from there we weave from Nell’s story in Australia to the wealthy Mountrachet family’s to the Authoress’–all bound not only by secrets, but blood as well. I was hooked as granddaughter Cassandra tried to unravel the mystery of Nell’s life.

It was only in the last quarter of the book when a Mrs. Hodgson Burnett attended a garden party at Blackhurst Manor and remarked on the secret garden “hidden on the grand estate” that I understood the visceral appeal of Morton’s novel–so very much a version of Burnett’s Secret Garden (a story I read many times as a child) but for adults’ eyes only.

With that, there’s really no need to give a synopsis of Morton’s book. Be assured it’s compelling and comforting to curl up in a chair and slip between the pages of a mystery about love and loss across generations.

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