Morton, Kate. The Forgotten Garden. Pan, 2008. ISBN 9780330449601 645 pp. $
I gave this slow paced mystery about disposable girls almost 100 pages. A small child is abandoned on the wharf in Maryborough when her ship arrives from England; the dockmaster takes the little girl home, and since he and his wife have been trying (unsuccessfully) to have a child of their own, they keep her, calling her “Nell,” and then even relocate, when someone begins making inquiries about a lost girl years later.
Nell has amnesia, and doesn’t find out she is adopted until she comes of age. She has a daughter of her own, who abandons HER child, Cassandra, to Nell. It isn’t until Nell passes that her Cass realizes her background is one big unsolved puzzle, and sets off for England to find figure out the mystery of her ancestry. During the journey, Cass studies her grandmother’s diary and the little white suitcase–and it’s contents–Nell was carrying on her voyage.
Although the initial chapters are short, lending a fast-paced feel, there isn’t a lot of action; it’s all back story. The author has some clever turns of phrase (“he was a scribble of a man” is going to stick with me!). Then, on page 94, the author begins to introduce short stories written by Eliza Makepeace, a woman who lived on the grounds of the estate Nell grew up on, before her fateful sea voyage. Whomever can SHE be?
I admit, I skimmed all the way to the end, to discover that the author blatantly hits the reader over the head with the symbolism of the stories from the fairy tales, and to notice that throughout, characters conveniently discover everything they need to know through “research” which means serendipitously stumbling about exact, thorough sources.