On my bedside table:
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.
A lost child
On the eve of the First World War, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her – but the Authoress has disappeared without a trace.
A terrible secret
On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell O’Connor learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.
A mysterious inheritance
On Nell’s death, her grand-daughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold – secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.
The first line:
It was dark where she crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.
The Forgotten Garden is an epic novel in every sense of the word: length, scope, detail, emotion, magic, creativity, and compulsion. Drawn from Kate Morton’s own family history, it weaves together three equally dizzying plot strands to create a beautiful, brutal family saga spanning nearly a century, set between Brisbane, Australia and spots between London and Cornwall in England. Not only does the novel pay homage to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden in such a subtle and delightful way that I nearly became that person reading alone on the bus who suddenly starts air pumping their fist in silent book-loving glee, but it also captures the essence of the Gothic novel by blending brutality and romanticism to spine-tingling effect. An utterly compelling read, I felt genuinely reluctant every time I had to put this novel down to turn the light out and sleep, and a thrill when I woke up in the morning and could return to it in bed. The characters are vividly drawn, the dark fairytales interwoven between the three narrative strands are spell-binding, and the pain of forgotten secrets are as overwhelming and emotive to discover as is a magical eden long overgrown. Seven years after publication, The Forgotten Garden is a novel I’ve often come across and for whatever reason, looked over. I’m so pleased I finally picked up a copy and dove into its pages. It has been the most rapturous drowning, and resurfacing. The kind of book that reminds you why you love reading.
Lovers of The Secret Garden, and, those so hungry for a novel to sink teeth into that only a 650-page smorgasbord of utterly compelling and magical storytelling will do.
To escape, to remember, to be swept away, to believe in the magic underpinning the mundane.
For your headphones:
A playlist full of the blooms and brambles found in the perfectly secret, forgotten garden.
Kate Morton’s website has some wonderful behind-the-scenes details about this corker of a novel that are well worth taking a peek at to whet your appetite, including a free download of the first chapter. Take a peek here.