I received this book as a Christmas Gift and have read it continuously since then – all 550 pages. It is an extraordinary, intergenerational tale full of suspense, surprises and quirky unfoldings.
We first meet Nell when she is four years old and finds herself alone on a ship heading for Australia when the woman who accompanied her, known only as the Authoress, disappeared after telling Nell to crouch behind some wooden barrels in the ship’s hold. It was Nell’s good fortune that the dockmaster, Hugh O’Connor, took her home to his wife Lil who had no children at the time, and they decide to raise her as their own.
Fast forward to Nell’s own granddaughter Cassandra who received word that she had inherited a cottage and a piece of property purchased by her grandmother back in Cornwall, England. Cassandra swiftly made plans to visit Cornwall and see her inheritance. There she learned about the Mountrachet family who lived in Blackhurst Manor on which Cassandra’s Cliff Cottage was located. She also spends time cleaning up the walled garden next to the cottage where she encounters secrets and half-truths.
The Authoress? She also had a connection to Blackhurst Manor. Her mother Georgiana had been the black sheep of the Mountrachet family when she married a mere sailor by whom she had two children, Eliza and Sammy. It is here that we learn much about the Mountrachet family, for Eliza whom we know as the Authoress is rescued from her life of poverty and brought back to her family home at Blackhurst Manor. Georgiana had died long ago, and Sammy was killed in a bicycle accident when he and Eliza worked for a cruel antiques dealer, Mrs. Swindell.
Eliza was introduced to her cousin Rose, the darling of the Mountrachet family, who is frail and sickly most of the time. Rose welcomes the lively Eliza into her life, but Rose’s mother Adeline feels that Eliza is a bad influence on Rose with her poor manners and rowdy language. Even so, Eliza who is a gifted story teller, entrances her cousin with her stories and Rose helps her to have them published.
When Rose falls in love with a poor artist named Nathaniel Walker, her health improves and they are married even though Adeline disapproves of Nathaniel’s low social status. Alas, the marriage is marred by the fact that Rose is unable to have children due to her life-long ailments.
The plot thickens here. A servant in the house is dismissed when she is found to be with child, though unmarried. Eliza the Authoress is made to stay in the Cliff Cottage away from her cousin Rose. Nathaniel sketches the pictures for Eliza’s fairy tales. Rose happily has her dream – a baby girl she names Ivory.
But what of the x-rays that damaged Rose’s organs when she was a child. Would not that have prevented her from having her healthy baby girl Ivory. And what of Ivory’s disappearance and Eliza’s departure from Blackhurst forever. And how is Nell related to the Mountrachet family. The answers to these questions are all contained in the last 100 pages of The Forgotten Garden. Reading this novel was a great roller coaster ride. Every chapter seemed to present a new mystery to be solved. I am sure you will love this novel as I did.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (2008)