Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
The Short Take:
If you loved The Secret Garden as a child, this book is probably going to charm your socks off. A beloved walled garden, a children’s book of fairy tales, and the search for that which is lost make this real-word novel feel like a fantasy.
I did not get into this book at first. It just felt young in writing style and story line. Then I got it.
Kate Morton’s novel is a salute to classic children’s literature, such as the above mentioned novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and classic fairy tales. Her writing style maintains a sense of the wide-eyed wonder of youth without any prancing pixies or flitting fairies.
The plot follows three different women over the course of a century. Morton chooses to tell each story simultaneously in order to reveal pivotal plot devices in an order that leads you slowly to understand the full relationship of these women. Thankfully, after setting up her story parameters, she does unwind the stories of these three characters largely in their proper order. So though you constantly jump from 1913 to 1975 to 2005, it’s not hard to keep the story straight.
The healing power of the garden (not magical, just the down-to-earth joys of planting and growing) is the link that ties the story parts together. Just in case you miss the reference, Hodgson Burnett herself makes a very brief appearance.
Morton has also created some very wicked bad guys for her novel. A part of me wishes they had gotten larger roles to play. They were as bad as any evil stepmother or tyrannical king in Grimm’s stories.
I saw the end coming rather early but enjoyed the journey. If you liked The Secret Garden you will, too.
A Little Plot:
A four-year-old girl is alone on an Australian dock, with no memory of what went before. The harbor master takes her home, and eventually he and his wife adopt her. When “Nell” learns the truth, she begins a life-long journey to discover her true identity, which finally leads her to a grand estate on the Cornish coast of England. But still leaves mysteries behind.
Her granddaughter, Cassandra, continues the search, using Nell’s notes to delve further.
Through both their efforts, they uncover the troubling story of the beautiful Eliza — the third of our three major women.
You want more? Read the book.
Want to know more about Kate Morton or her work? Click here.