The Forgotten Garden is an enchanting story which explores the lives of three women over three different decades. In the present, Cassandra is mourning the death of her grandmother when she discovers she has inherited a book of fairytales and a cottage in Cornwall. As Cassandra delves deeper into her grandmother’s life, she discovers Nell was trying to discover the identity of her real parents and the reason why she was abandoned onboard a ship to Australia. Realising Nell was unable to continue her quest, Cassandra sets off for Cornwall intent on finding out the truth.
Cassandra also has her own demons to lay to rest as she has withdrawn from the world after losing her husband and child in a car accident ten years previously. As the mystery of Nell’s origins deepens, Cassandra is slowly drawn out of her shell and begins to rediscover life again as she makes interesting new friends.
Interwoven alongside Cassandra’s tale are the stories of Grandmother Nell’s own search for the truth and also that of Eliza Makepeace, the authoress of the fairytales. Morton expertly links their stories together as the truth is gradually unravelled, often with tragic consequences, before reaching a satisfying end. The twists weren’t hard to guess but I never felt cheated because I was more interested in learning how the characters reached their conclusions and how they dealt with it.
Fairytales feature prominently in the story and there is almost a magical quality to the writing which soon wraps you in its spell. Eliza’s own dark fairytales are given space and Morton cleverly uses them to reveal clues to the mystery and also as a reflection to the main narrative.
The forgotten garden itself also has a large part to play in the story and it is almost a character in its own right as there are many who find themselves inexplicably drawn there and leave more at peace with themselves. Of course, readers will be familiar with Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story, The Secret Garden, and the author herself makes a cameo appearance in the novel with a fun implication that she got the idea for her book by visiting Blackhurst Estate.