Book Review: The Forgotten Garden

Book Review: The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden: A Novel by Kate Morton

I kept running across Kate Morton’s name and book titles, and was curious by them. Their length gave me pause though; at over 500 pages they’re a hefty investment of reading time and I would have preferred to have someone I trust tell me they’re worth it.

My impatience to give Morton a try got the best of me and that, combined with an upcoming vacation where I expected to have extra reading time, led me to get the first one of her books that the library had available.

The Forgotten Garden is what the library provided, and it ended up being a fun vacation read.

I had some complaints with the book, and am not sure that I’ll make a lot of effort to seek out her other titles. Maybe on another vacation.

I loved how she drew me into the worlds she depicted, and got me to care about (most of) the characters.

My complaints about the book included:

  • Length. It felt bloated, and like it could have easily been edited to lose 200 pages without compromising much of the story.
  • Structure. The format of jumping back and forth in time, and into the story of different characters annoyed me more than anything. I know why she did it; I just wish she’d figured out another way to create suspense and continue the mystery.
  • Pacing. Related to the length of the book, but it felt off, and certain parts especially dragged.
  • Plot. The so-called mystery involved wasn’t very mysterious. I know it wasn’t written as a mystery, but if you’re going to present something as mysterious, it’d be nice if it wasn’t telegraphed quite so obviously, from such an early point in the book.
  • Characterization. Certain actions by some of the characters felt completely unrealistic.

With all those complaints it may seem surprising that I liked the book as much as I did. I really liked some of the characters and was very interested in their story. Also, I think reading it on vacation made a big difference in my overall feelings toward the book, so I’m not sure how much I’d have liked it under usual circumstances. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you like long, sweeping stories about multiple generations of women. Or you’re going on vacation and want a book that will pull you in to its setting and you don’t mind a slow pace.

Publisher’s Description:
From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The House at Riverton, a novel that takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through generations and across continents as two women try to uncover their family’s secret past

A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-fi rst birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, “Nell” sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.

Book Details

Title: The Forgotten Garden: A Novel
Author: Kate Morton
Category: Fiction / Historical
Length: 560 pages
Format: Hardcover
Release Date: 2010
Publisher: Washington Square Press
ISBN: 1416550550 / 978-1416550556
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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  1. I have read all of Kate Morton’s works. She is a good storyteller. I find I am drawn to read her books even though at the end I look book and realize I didn’t “love” the book, but I definitely couldn’t put it down. I too have “complaints” with each of her works. I’ve written up reviews on each of them at my blog (before I took a break from it) and her latest work I wrote up a review on Good Reads. In some ways she gets better with each novel and yet at the same time I think she is bordering on the lines of formula fiction. She needs to change up the format of her books else they become too predictable.

    • I think the aspects that bothered me did so in part because I wish so much that they hadn’t been issues – if she’d tightened up the story, it’d be so much easier to recommend. And I’d love to recommend it – I liked how she pulled me into the world she developed.

      That’s disappointing that she’s falling into a predictable formula with her books, because several of her other works sound very interesting.

  2. I’m so glad you reviewed this book. I put it forward as a suggestion for our book club (one Catherine introduced me to) as one I had heard good things about. Now that I am reminded of its page length and have read your insights, I might retract it as a possible book club read, but still make time for it on my own list of 2013 intentions.

    • In a lot of ways I think it’d be a great bookclub book – there’s some very discussable aspects of it, which I think helps make for a great meeting. But yes, the length could be a big concern. On the plus side it’s easy to read (which I say in part because I never did finish my last bookclub read of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop – similar in length to Morton’s book, but so much slower to read.)

      • So sorry you didn’t make it through Dickens. His style is difficult to wade through to get to the riches.

        Continuing to pray for your comfort in your grief, as I just found out my brother is having a suspicious (possibly cancerous) lump removed next week. Darn cancer!

        • I didn’t finish the Dickens before bookclub, but I’m going to finish it. I like reading it at a slower pace, so the serialized segments end up being a perfect amount at a time. If I keep up that sort of pace, I’ll be done with it by my next bookclub meeting. Not that it’ll matter by then, but at least I’ll have some personal satisfaction in finishing it. 🙂

          This is in contrast to Les Miserables, which once I realized I’d never finish in time for bookclub last year I put it aside and haven’t touched it since. And don’t plan to.

          So sorry to hear about your brother. I’ll be praying for him & you.

  3. Haha, I get frustrated with mysteries that I can figure out at the beginning too! Or plots that seem too formulaic.

    • I love mysteries, and I never try to figure out the solution while I’m reading it. So when I do figure it out I think the author has made it *way* too easy – I’m trying to let it be a surprise!

      I think it’s also why I don’t generally like pseudo-mysteries like this one was. If you don’t read mysteries, this one might have seemed like one, but if you do, the mystery element was so weak.


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