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Review: Kate Morton's 'The Forgotten Garden' explores an abandoned child's past

A woman's search for her origins and long-lost family is at the heart of Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden, but the richly layered plot slips between past and present as the mystery of her identity unfolds.

As the book opens, a 3-year-old is found aboard a London ship bound for Australia. The child has only the clothing she is wearing and a small suitcase with scant contents. Her rescuers are left to wonder why she was abandoned on an ocean liner — and why one of the few items in her suitcase is a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales.

When the ship arrives in Australia, the girl is adopted by a couple who name her Nell. She doesn't learn her own history until she is a young woman. Shattered by the revelation, Nell breaks her engagement and becomes estranged from her family and friends.

Nell's story is intertwined with that of two girls, Eliza and Rose, who live on an estate in Cornwall during the Edwardian era, and with that of her own granddaughter, Cassandra, who later takes up Nell's search.

Using the book of fairy tales as a key, Nell travels to England to try to untangle the mystery. She makes a few surprising discoveries, but many questions remain. Nell returns to Australia to settle her affairs, but she has only just returned when a family crisis changes her plans.

Granddaughter Cassandra has a bitter past of her own, and she is not at all keen to go digging up what are sure to be painful secrets. Reluctantly, she takes up the quest, and it is Cassandra who learns the truth about Nell's origins and the titular garden.

To say more would be to spoil the surprises that await readers of this well-crafted novel. Morton has great control of her material. As in her first book, The House at Riverton, the story explores the ways in which secrets from the past continue to poison the present.

Holly Fults can be reached at hfults@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2944.

The Forgotten Garden

By Kate Morton

Atria, 560 pages, $26

Review: Kate Morton's 'The Forgotten Garden' explores an abandoned child's past 06/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 6:31pm]

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