In 1913, a 4-year-old girl is placed on a ship leaving London for Australia. When the ship arrives, no one is there to claim the girl. No one knows where she came from or who she belongs to. She won’t tell them her name. The only clue to her identity is a small suitcase with a little money, a brush and a beautiful book of fairytales.
The dockmaster who finds the young girl decides his only option is to take the her home with him. He and his wife raise her as their own. On her 21st birthday, the girl, Nell, is told the truth about where she came from and how she became a part of their lives. Nell’s world is shattered. Her sense of self disappears in an instant.
Nell decides the only way she’ll ever feel complete again is to figure out her past. The search leads her to the Cornish Coast and Blackhurst Manor. She starts diving into the dark history of the Mountrachet family and their secrets. It’s not until after Nell’s death, when her granddaughter Cassandra picks up the search do all the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place. With her grandmother’s notes and that precious book of fairytales, Cassandra travels back to the Cornish Coast, determined to find out why her grandmother was put on a ship at 4 years old and shipped to a strange land all by herself.
“The Forgotten Garden” is a beautiful story full of complex layers, mysteries and pasts. Although I figured out part of the mystery early on, I didn’t figure out how it would end up until the very end. The fact that I had figured part of it out only heightened my interest even more to see if I was correct.
One of the main characters in the book, Eliza, is strong and fiery and memorable. She was by far the most fully drawn and most complex character in the book. The relationships in the book are mostly between women - between mothers and daughters, between friends and cousins. The book revolves around the love and hate between the women in a family.
Although the book is quite long, the mystery itself kept me reading and wanting more. The clues are given in small doses - just enough to slightly shock and make you dive deeper into the world of Nell’s origins.
The book jumps between time frames from early 1900s to 1975 to 2005. This was slightly confusing at the beginning, but I got used to it pretty quickly until I didn’t even notice as we jumped around in time. I was so engrossed in the story, I was able to pick up in time I had last left and not miss a beat.
For readers who love a multigenerational story with mystery and depth, “The Forgotten Garden” is a must read. Although it is slightly longer than it should be, the vivid characters and the complex plot keep the story going at a good pace. It is wholly satisfying in the end.
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