Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton


This book has been on my radar forever, but somehow, I'd never gotten around to reading it.  It seems to be one of these books that a lot of book groups are reading.  I have to confess, sometimes I'm a bit snobbish when it comes to book group books.  There are certain books that become extremely popular with book groups, but when it comes time to choose books for my two groups at the library, I'm sometimes leery -- there are some books that absolutely everyone loves, and I end up hating them.  I hated, hated, hated The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which was really popular a few years ago; in fact, I hated it so much I demanded a refund from Target.  I also disliked Water for Elephants and I was really underwhelmed by The Paris Wife, which we discussed last month. (Everyone else loved it). 

But people kept raving about The Forgotten Garden, so I gave it a shot, even though it's more than 550 pages long.  So, if you are one of the 12 other people in the world who has not read this book yet (there are more than 83,000 reviews on Goodreads), here's the setup.  Basically, this is a historical mystery, which jumps back and forth between three main characters, following their lives across two continents and more than 100 years.

The book starts about 1905, in Australia.  A little girl, about four years old, is found all alone on the docks after a ship has docked -- somehow, she's come all the way from England and no one seems to know her name or who she belongs to.  The only clue is a white suitcase with a book of fairy tales.  The port master takes her home, and he and his wife (who have been unable to have a child of their own) end up keeping her.  The little girl eventually forgets all about this and on her 21st birthday, the young woman, now renamed Nell, learns of her mysterious origins.

Then we flash-forward 90 years and Nell is on her deathbed, with her beloved granddaughter Cassandra.  Her final words are something about "The Authoress."  Cassandra, who was raised by Nell from the age of ten when she was ditched by her own feckless mother, starts asking questions.  Who is the Authoress?  Is she Nell's mother?  Did she kidnap Nell and put her on the boat?  What happened to her?

The story then jumps back and forth between the Victorian and Edwardian eras, explaining the origins of the mysterious Authoress, the book of fairy tales, and, ultimately, the mystery of Nell and how she wound up in Australia alone.   We also learn about Cassandra's childhood and her own personal tragedies.

The book jumps around a lot, so I was a bit confused at first about the various characters.  However, after the first couple of chapters, which are broken up between the main characters, I was hooked.  Morton does a really good job of creating distinct characters and histories, and she's especially good at setting the scenes.  I especially liked the earliest time frame, when we learn all about the Authoress -- her back story is really quite Dickensian.

Morton's plot is also really well developed; in fact, I would almost say it's a little too perfect, if that makes sense.  There are plot points and characters that are so convenient that some parts are rather contrived, but I'm being nitpicky; also, there were some plot twists that I could spot a mile away.  Nevertheless,  I really got hooked on the story and wanted to find out how what happened.  It's well over 500 pages long, but I hated putting it down and read the last 200 or so pages in a stretch, staying up waaaay past my bedtime the last night.  It's long, but it's actually a very quick read.

I can definitely see why it would be popular for book groups -- there's a lot to discuss, and it's not difficult as long as you can keep all the characters straight.  I actually coordinate two different book groups for my library, so I'm already planning on putting one of her other books on the list next year for the other book group.

Has anyone else read this?  What about Morton's other books?  Which one should I read next?  And are there any book club favorites that everyone loves that you just hated?

25 comments:

  1. I have this book on my shelf and I need to get to it. I really enjoyed The House at Riverton, which I read in 2010. Thanks for the review!

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    1. I'm thinking about The House at Riverton for my other book group next year. This one was a real page-turner. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. That happened to me with Jodi Picoult - my book group loved the one we read, and I loathed it. I think it was a library book, so at least I hadn't paid good money for it. I know Kate Morton's books are very popular, and they've been enthusiastically recommended to me more than once, but I didn't finish the ones I've tried (which unfortunately I did buy, based on the enthusiastic recommendations!). I'm glad you enjoyed this one!

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    1. I'm kind of over Jodi Picoult. I read My Sister's Keeper and was impressed how she worked the plot, but then I read the one about the suicide pact, and I couldn't read any more of her books. She's definitely tapped into something though I think some of the topics are kind of icky.

      I enjoyed The Forgotten Garden but I wouldn't call it great literature. However, I'm currently reading The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt which also includes a lot of fairy tales and is set in a similar time period. I'm trying not to compare the two but I can't help it.

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  3. This has been sitting on my TBR pile for ages. I liked The House at Riverton, though it was a touch predictable, but I found her most recent book - The Secret Keeper - overly long and overly contrived. But you've said enough positive about this one to make me think I might pick it up when the mood for that sort of book strikes.

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    1. This one did have parts that seemed somewhat contrived, but it was entertaining enough. Some parts were just too much of a coincidence to be realistic for me, but I tend to be nitpicky -- I make my family crazy when we watch movies.

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  4. I love historical fiction, so this sounds like something I would like -- but hey, I also loved The Paris Wife. Sometimes I need a break from classic lit, as much as I love it! This might be a good suggestion for my book club, since there seems to be a lot there.

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    1. Sometimes I need a break from classics too. I liked parts of The Paris Wife but I tend not to enjoy books based on real people, or on other writer's characters. This would definitely be good for a book club because there is a lot to discuss.

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  5. It's on my list--I didn't realize it was as wildly popular as you say, but then I have my head stuck in the 1800s so much, what do I know about modern taste?

    I like the premise, but I can see how it would be confusing, at first anyway.

    Good review--I'm not sure when I'll read it. It's long for a something I may not be thrilled with, but maybe a good airplane read.

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    1. Thanks!! This would be a great airplane read -- I'll have to remember to pack one of her books next time I have a long, long flight. Like to Australia. Or Cornwall!

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  6. I loved this one. Of her other books The Distant Hours is my favorite so far.

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    1. It's funny, I'm getting good comments about all of her books! I guess I'll have to read all of them eventually!

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    2. Another fan of The Distant Hours here. I've enjoyed reading all of her books, but this was my favorite.

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  7. All of her books are pretty similar so if you like one, you'll like them all (The Secret Keeper was my favorite so far). They're predictable at times and yes, somewhat convenient but they're well-written and all fun reads.

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    1. I thought the plot was well-thought out and there was some great descriptions -- now I'm dying to visit Cornwall. I enjoyed it, I would definitely read another of her books.

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  8. I really liked The House at Riverton, but I haven't been drawn to any of her other books.
    The Children's Book....sigh. It is one of my absolute favorite books ever and I would love to re-read it someday.
    Have either of your groups read The Submission by Amy Waldman? I just read it for my book club and I think we're going to have a great discussion about it.

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    1. I'm really, really enjoying The Children's Book. I want to keep reading it but I also want to slow down and make it last. And now I'm also obsessed with pottery and Edwardian fairy tales.

      I haven't heard anything about The Submission, I'll definitely look for it. I hope it's not one of those books with only four copies in the entire library system, that's so annoying when you find a great book and there's not enough copies!

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  9. I loved this on audio, but have not read any of Morton's other books. The House at Riverton is calling to me...

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    1. I wanted to get this one on audio, but the library's waiting list was just too long at the time. I think they have some of her other books on audio so I'll have to keep that in mind for the next one.

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  10. I read all of 15 pages of The House at Riverton before deciding it was just not forme so I have not felt inclined to read any of her other titles. I have your aversion to incredibly popular books too.

    Karen @bookertalk

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    1. Just out of curiosity, what didn't you like about it? I agree it's not great literature but it was an entertaining read, as long as you can suspend disbelief.

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  11. I really enjoyed The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper by Morton. Her other two books are on my TBR list. The mysterious family saga is one of my favorite types of books. I can't think of any books that are popular book club choices that I've hated off the top of my head but I have friends who love Nicholas Sparks, Twilight, and Fifty Shades and I am not a fan of any of those. I've been reading Harry Potter with my 8 year old. We are on the 3rd book and I think they are just okay. I much prefer Rick Riordan's books.

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    1. My girls love Rick Riordan too. He's from San Antonio and we were lucky enough to see him speak at a museum here last year when his latest book came out. He was hilarious and they both got signed copies of his books (they were pre-signed, there were just too many people for us to get individual signed copies).

      I liked the first Twilight book when it came out, though I found it flawed, but since then I've come to hate the entire series. Nicholas Sparks' books just look sappy to me, and I find the premise of Fifty Shades to be deeply disturbing.

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  12. Hee hee, I KNEW I liked you! I, too, hated The Memory Keeper's Daughter AND The Paris Wife. Water for Elephants was OK (I liked the old guy telling the story so much!) and what I liked about The Forgotten Garden was Nell. I think I have a tender soft spot for elder characters.

    I listened to this and it was pretty good on audio. Had no idea it was a chunkster.

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  13. I liked Nell too. I also liked the fact that Cassandra was about 40, not a twentysomething. (Though I'm sure if it's ever adapted into a movie, she'd be in her 20s.)

    The Paris Wife turned me off Hemingway forever. It wasn't my first choice for the book group but sometimes I have to listen to the groups suggestions, not just what I want. I have an aversion to books that fictionalize the lives of real characters. I'm not opposed to the occasional cameo by someone real, but I'm far more impressed by writers who make up their own characters and plots.

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