There are books that send you to a magical place. You forget you are reading. You experience what is going on around the protagonist. When you stop reading, you blink and look around you, your own environment looks foreign for just a few moments.
The Forgotten Garden is this type of book.
The book opens with little Nell aged four on a ship waiting for The Authoress to return. This boat journey turns into a century long mystery that Nell's granddaughter Cassandra will finish.
The book explores several themes. The first one that I really felt was the theme of writers fictionalizing their own lives. I felt at times as though Kate Morton were here conversing with me, telling me her view and thoughts on life. The book deviates from the story to explore different ideas that I wonder if the author has thought. At one point one of the characters echoes that sentiment regarding The Authoress who turned her greatest story into a fairy tale. Kate Morton also did fictionalize the story of her grandmother to tell the story of Nell.
The story is non-linear which I greatly enjoyed. Not many stories have a clear start and finish. Life does not often have a clear start and finish. Being a bit of a Whovian I m going to turn the 10th Doctor to explain:
(image is from http://www.fimfiction.net/story/244628/6/foreknowledge-2/chapter-5-wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey)
The theme of siblings is also explored. We see several groups of siblings. We see young Eliza and Sammy who struggle for a fair life in the dark times of Jack the Ripper's London. Through flashbacks we see the dysfunctional relationship of Linus and Georgianna. We see the cousins who became sisters, Eliza and Rose. How far would you go for the love of a sibling? Would you make an ultimate sacrifice?
We also see parent/child relationships. Nell and her absent Momma open the book. Then we meet Nell's quasi-adoptive parents. If you lost a child, or your wife lost a child, how far would you go to fill that void? Are you filling it to help the child, or help you deal with your own sense of loss? We see Rose with her overbearing Momma Adeline and her emotionally distant father Linus. We see the adult Nell and her daughter, and her granddaughter Cassandra.
I have suffered a few miscarriages now and I know the painful hollow feeling that accompanies the loss of a child after the exhilarating happiness of finding out you are expecting. To what ends would someone who has also felt that loss go?
This book is a magical read. If you believe in the power of storytelling, I highly recommend this book.
If you do read it, I definitely suggest you read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. That book is similar in feel and tone to this book.