Three Generations: The Forgotten Garden

Pan Books published The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. In it, she tells the stories of three women in search of their roots covering a hundred years of family history. While two of them were displaced by no choice of their own, the third is set upon her quest by her grandmother to solve a family mystery.

Linked by a book of illustrated fairy-tales, the three stories are told parallel to each other. The ploy of jumping in time from chapter to chapter works surprisingly well for this story as the past and the present become progressively more entwined with each other. If at the beginning of the book you tend to get slightly confused with these time changes, they make a lot of sense once you get past the first few chapters.

Starting out in Australia, the story leads the reader back to a country pile in Cornwall and the family that lived there before the Great War. The heroine of that story is Nell who was found on a ship without parents. She set out to find out about her roots inspired by a book of fairy-tales found in her luggage. This old book was the only lead and she started to trace the known facts about the author and the publishers in the old world.

Eliza, who would become the author of the fairy tales, was taken in as a child by her uncle and aunt after her mother died. The known facts about her life were few, and the more Nell found out, the more she got puzzled, until finally she set out to England to trace down more facts. The quest led her into Cornwall and to a family that was less than charming.

Cassandra, the third of the women, inherited a Cornish property from her grandmother Nell. Intrigued and at a loss to explain how her grandmother came by it, she set out in turn for England and Cornwall to unravel the mystery behind the property and her grandmother’s diary of her journey. Once there, she started to unravel the mystery and clues left to her by her grandmother only to find more questions than answers. In her quest, she used the fairy-tales as a guide to unravel the secrets and lies behind the family once living near and in the property she inherited.

Covering a time period starting about 1900 to the present, the book is quite long, but this shouldn't put you off reading it. It lends itself to reading chapter by chapter with interruptions as the there is no timeline you have to follow. But the story-line is strong enough to carry you on once you sit down with a cup of tea and might bind you up longer than you intended. You have to be prepared, though, to overlook some inconsistencies which the author overlooked as her characters evolved while writing; on the other hand, the logical errors are not grave enough to mar the enjoyment of the story.